Cambodia's largest and most independent confederation of unions yesterday released its first solidarity video to rounds of applause and cheers from about 400 labour activists, on the first day of a two-day gathering designed to kick-start a process of uniting the Kingdom’s fragmented labour movement.
Labour activists from the Cambodian Labour Confederation’s seven federations and associations are aiming to extend the minimum wage beyond the garment industry and curb the widespread use of short-term contracts in that industry, they said.
“When the small fish do not unite, the big fish can kill easily, but if the small fish unite, they will win,” Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn said.
The animated video begins with a shark hunting scattered fish, followed by the slogan “No unity, no success”. The scattered fish subsequently merge into the shape of one large fish and turn on the shark, which then swims away and the slogan “Unity is success” appears.
“The small fish are the unions, and the shark is their obstacle,” Ath Thorn said, adding that the CLC, which has affiliate members in every sector, is looking to expand. Although there are more than 2,000 unions registered in Cambodia, only about 400 are active, and many of these are affiliated with companies or political parties, he said.
Chea Vireak, a representative of a small union, agreed there was a need for unions to work together. “It is easy for workers to demand wages from employers or the government, but they need power to resolve disputes,” he said.
David Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said the labour movement was particularly weak in the garment sector because it had so many unions and little coordination between them. Greater unity was required for organising and collective bargaining in that sector, especially ahead of the introduction of new legislation on unions, Welsh said.
Ath Thorn said it was critical for unions to be independent.
“A union that is managed by employers or political parties uses workers as equipment,” he explained, adding that unions should be strong enough that political parties and government officials listen to them and respect their members’ rights and requests.
As well as aiming to have the minimum wage in the garment sector, US$61 a month, extended to other sectors, the CLC is taking aim at the widespread use of short-term contracts, which union leaders said were exposing garment workers to mistreatment and undermining their ability to unionise.
They were also harming the health of pregnant women, new mothers and infants because some companies were using short-term contracts to weed pregnant women out of their factories to avoid paying maternity leave, they said.