Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Union rips into ILO garment report

Union rips into ILO garment report

Union rips into ILO garment report

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Garment workers take a break outside a factory on Sisowath Quay before returning to work for an overtime shift in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district last September.

Cambodia's garment factories remain, for the most part, in compliance with national laws and international labour standards, the latest monitoring report from the International Labour Organisation, which was released yesterday, concludes.

This finding was quickly dismissed as out of touch with reality by the president of one of the largest unions representing garment workers, a reaction that was in turn dismissed as predictable by the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia.

“That’s what unions do, they complain,” GMAC’s Ken Loo said.

“Compliance levels generally remain high, although some areas of concern remain,” the ILO said in a statement accompanying its 26th report on working conditions in the Kingdom’s garment sector. It has been monitoring factories here as part of its Better Factories Cambodia programme since 2001.  

ILO monitors who inspected 186 of the 276 factories with export licences found no evidence of forced labour or proof that the factories were employing children, the report said.

Almost all factories, 97 percent, paid the legal minimum wage of US$61 a month for regular workers, but only 79 percent paid casual workers, or those on probation, the minimum wage of $56 per month, it said.

“How can we live on $61 a month?” the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union asked. “Workers are cutting back on food and working two to four hours of overtime each day to get by,” Ath Thorn explained.

He also said that many of the factories the ILO was monitoring were subcontracting orders to factories outside its Better Factories programme and that these factories were violating workers rights on a daily basis.

Ken Loo said that the average monthly wage of a garment worker was about $95, which included overtime of about 12 hours a week. “We never called $61 a living wage, it’s a minimum wage,” he said.

Factories are operating on thin profit margins, he said, but added that it was possible that both workers and factory owners might be “right”.

The ILO report is based on investigations conducted between November 1, 2010 and April 30, 2011. The data it uses to detect incidence of sexual harassment is from a survey conducted in 2006.  A communications officer admitted that this data was old but said it was still relevant.

The garment factories in the ILO’s programme employed almost 325,000 workers in the first half of this year. Garment exports in the period rose 32 percent over the same period last year, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

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