Garment factories and Cambodia's largest union are set to trial "collective
bargaining agreements" (CBAs) in a bid to improve the dispute plagued garment
"There are too many strikes," said the union's liaison officer George McLeod.
"Currently there is no grievance system in factories, so disputes aren't settled,
but most labor disputes don't need to be settled by strikes. CBAs will address day
to day problems."
Ray Chew, who is a senior member of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia
(GMAC), would not offer a position on CBAs, but said the association was "talking
about grievance resolution procedures at the enterprise level to settle labor disputes".
Grievance resolution procedures are regarded as a first step on the road to CBAs,
said McLeod. His union, the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia
(FTUWKC), represents 20,000 workers, or one in ten of the country's garment workers.
McLeod added that unions wanted the agreements to contribute to the long term competitiveness
of the industry, and said they along with government and manufacturers were starting
to look beyond 2005 when garment quotas will be phased out.
"The problem is Cambodia doesn't really have a comparative advantage. The cost
of labor is not an advantage here," McLeod said. India, Indonesia and Bangladesh
all pay their garment workers lower hourly wage rates, possess raw materials and
have huge domestic markets.
"Cambodia will never be a major producer like China, but it can be a niche player,"
McLeod said that unions were looking to cooperate in garnering a long term future
for the garment industry by building a niche market through Cam-bodia's reputation
for good working conditions.
"Collective bargaining agreements can be a major contributor to Cambodia's competitive
advantage," he said. "One possibility would be to set up a local labor
monitoring group and create a logo to tell consumers that the product was made in
an ethical way.
"They would allow unions to have a hands on role so that buyers could be assured
that products are produced in a good human rights environment," he said.
The garment industry has grown to be Cambodia's largest exporter on the basis of
a unique quota system designed to encourage good working conditions. McLeod said
the industry could still have a future even after the quota system ends in less than
three years time.
"People are still investing here, factories are opening and the industry is
expanding despite the quota. There is still money to be made and the workforce is