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Municipal officials given a larger hand in labour disputes

Municipal officials given a larger hand in labour disputes

2 MV workers protest on national road 2 vireak mai

Continuing its efforts to quell an increasing number of strikes in the Kingdom’s lucrative garment sector, the government this week issued a directive aimed at giving provincial and municipal governors powers to resolve issues at factories without calling on ministries in Phnom Penh.

“To ensure further contributions to economic growth and to solve problems for the people, the government gives [municipal] and provincial governors more duties,” states the  directive, signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday and obtained yesterday.

Under the changes, provincial authorities have powers to monitor the productivity of their local factories, examine worksites, solve industrial disputes and maintain public order when workers strike.

The Labour and Social Affairs ministries have previously exclusively carried out such duties.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, called the directive “meaningful”, but said he believed only the Ministry of Labour should deal with strikes.

“Some officials enflame disputes, which leads to violent crackdowns,” he said.

During a speech on Wednesday in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, which is home to 38 garment factories, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged garment workers to refrain from striking or risk factories departing for more stable markets.

Dave Welsh, country manager for labour-rights group Solidarity Center/ACILS, said giving provincial authorities more powers seemed to be a step in the right direction.

Welsh said his organisation had been asking the government to give more authorities the power to deal aggressively with factories who had falsely declared themselves bankrupt.

“If owners are fleeing . . . there should be criminal sanctions.”

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said decentralisation should “in theory” speed up the decision-making process when it came to dealing with issues such as workers blocking national roads.

“We often hear [from authorities] that ‘we are waiting for instructions’,” he said. “There will no longer be a need to wait for solutions from the central government."

Additional reporting by Shane Worrell

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