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Worker rights ‘stack up poorly’

Garment workers cheer and chant on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard
Garment workers cheer and chant on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in January during a protest demanding the industry’s minimum wage be raised to $160 a month. Pha Lina

Worker rights ‘stack up poorly’

Cambodia is one of the worst countries in the world to work in, according to an International Trade Union Confederation report released on Monday.

The 2014 ITUC Global Rights Index – which focuses on the extent to which workers’ rights such as freedom of association, collective bargaining and freedom to strike are respected – says Cambodia is worse than Iraq, Myanmar and Pakistan when it comes to violations.

Following the deadly shooting by government forces of at least four people during a garment strike in January, Cambodia has been given a “5” rating and is considered to offer “no guarantee of rights”, putting it in the unenviable company of Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

“While the legislation may spell out certain rights, workers have effectively no access to these rights and are therefore exposed to autocratic regimes and unfair labour practices,” the report says of the rating.

Only a rating of “5+”, reserved for countries such as Syria and the Central African Republic, where rule of law has completely broken down, is considered worse. However, even in countries in that category, rights are considered no more limited than in those with a “5” rating.

Contributing significantly to Cambodia’s poor ranking were the fatal shootings on Veng Sreng Boulevard on January 3.

“For police to kill, beat and arrest workers in brazen violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association is extremely troubling and must be condemned,” the report says.

Other issues spelled out include chronic overtime, poor factory conditions and excessive use of fixed-duration contracts in the garment sector.

The ITUC says that it draws its information from the “world’s most comprehensive database of violations of workers’ rights”.

Its affiliates in Cambodia include the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, Rong Chhun’s Cambodian Confederation of Unions and the Cambodia Confederation of Trade Unions.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the findings yesterday, saying the report had been compiled by people outside Cambodia.

“The facts are completely different,” he said, adding that the Kingdom was not by any stretch of the imagination the worst country to work in. “I disagree [with the report].”

Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo was not available to comment.

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