The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and the management of a Phnom Penh factory where workers have been on strike for some two weeks issued a statement yesterday alleging that the strike action’s repercussions could negatively affect the industry as a whole.
In the joint statement, GMAC offers its “full legal and spirit[ual] support to” Macao-owned M&V International Manufacturing Ltd, while calling for the timely intervention of the government to prevent “bad situations”.
“Strikes against the legal procedures which was [sic] led by at least 13 unaffiliated union federations and at least 4 affiliated unions in M&V … have seriously damaged and affected the economic situation of the company and caused a negative impact to the garments sector,” the statement reads.
GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo yesterday said that the statement was released to call attention to the fact that unions did not follow legal procedures before going on strike, with the M&V action exemplifying a culture of illegal strikes that degrades Cambodia’s reputation.
However, Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, yesterday said he believed GMAC was attempting to rally support for draft legislation on trade unions currently under consideration by the government. Many unions and labour activists fear the legislation could curtail their activities and damage workers’ rights.
“GMAC wants to send a message to stakeholders including the government, the buyers [and] the unions; that this is messy, [and] that the unions always organise illegal strikes, so they need to have a trade union law,” Tola said yesterday.
The strike at M&V – where workers’ main demands include fairly typical calls for 2,000 riel ($0.50) per day for lunch, higher wages and $15 per month for transportation – is not especially large or damaging to Cambodia’s garment industry, Tola said.
But Loo yesterday maintained that the statement had nothing to do with garnering support for the draft trade union law, and was simply intended to publicise the issue of illegal strikes, which many factories hesitate to report out of fear of drawing attention to unrest at their business.
“It’s not at all part of the consideration [of the trade union law] in this statement,” Loo said. “This statement was made more in reaction to what’s happening in M&V.”
The draft union legislation has been a flashpoint of controversy in Cambodia’s labour community. Two groups of unions yesterday delivered petitions about the draft law to the Ministry of Labour, National Assembly and the embassies of the United States and the European Union, with one petition discouraging its passage and the other backing it.