Leaders of Cambodia’s fractious union movement are uniting to challenge the garment industry’s reliance on short-term employment contracts, and will target the government, the association of factory owners and buyers to rein in factories that are using such contracts to exploit workers, they said yesterday.
If this does not work, they will stage a peaceful, general strike, they said at the end of a two-day meeting on the issue.
A major cause for alarm, they said, was that fixed-duration contracts are being used to avoid paying maternity leave to female staff, who comprise the overwhelming majority of a workforce that produces about 85 per cent of the Kingdom’s exports.
“Women on fixed-duration contracts often have to choose between keeping their jobs and having children,” said Chheng Kim Lang, a representative of the Cambodia
Labour Confederation. She said that because the Labour Law requires employers to provide maternity leave to employees who have worked for them for one year, factory managers were using six-month contracts to avoid this.
The loss of maternity leave was undermining development by lowering the living standards of new mothers and their infants, Chheng Kim Lang said.
Short-term contracts also lessen “labour productivity and corporate competitiveness by discouraging human resource development and jeopardising industrial relations”, a statement from the union leaders said.
At some garment and footwear factories, up to 90 per cent of the staff are on short-term contracts, they said, adding that the use of such contracts is far less prevalent in countries whose garment industries compete with Cambodia’s.
Although the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia has said that the labour ministry has interpreted the law to allow for the indefinite use of fixed-duration contracts, not all of its members use them.
Kevin Plenty, a member of GMAC’s executive committee, said his company, Quantum Clothing (Cambodia) Ltd, uses long-term contracts.
“We prefer long-term contracts because they allow us to increase productivity and efficiency,” he said, adding the company operated the most productive and efficient factory in Cambodia while paying its staff salaries that were “above the living wage, not just the minimum wage”.