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New agreements to settle factory disputes

New agreements to settle factory disputes

Garment factories and Cambodia's largest union are set to trial "collective

bargaining agreements" (CBAs) in a bid to improve the dispute plagued garment

industry.

"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,"

he said.

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

still expanding."

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