Factory Owners Slam Government Over Handling of Strikes

Members of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) said during a conference Sunday that they are “fed up” with the government for not controlling strikes by labor unions.

“All of us have the same issue: illegal strikes,” Van Porphin, a member of GMAC’s executive committee, told an audience of about 200 factory owners and managers gathered for GMAC’s Open Forum 2013 at Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld Casino.

“We have seen that the government doesn’t have the will or want to enforce the law. We are fed up about this situation. So, I think to be realistic, we have to fight for ourselves, we have to find our own solution,” she said.

One way to deal with the relatively high rate of industrial unrest in the country, Ms. Porphin suggested, would be to stop paying bribes to union leaders to stay off the picket lines and to instead use that money to raise wages.

“Instead of giving money under the table to bad unions to settle disputes, give the money to the workers,” she suggested.

GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng said that, without government intervention, garment manufacturers being pressured by unions “are put in a corner as if a gangster is pointing a gun to your head,” requiring them to take matters into their own hands by bribing union leaders to stand down when industrial disputes arose.

Mr. Sou Ieng said upcoming negotiations over the minimum wage, which are set to begin today, would “mean nothing if illegal strikes continue.”

Asked what GMAC proposed the government should do to discourage illegal strikes, Mr. Sou Ieng suggested revoking the license of offending unions or prosecuting leaders of illegal strikes.

During the morning session of the forum, the GMAC board put forth a proposal that would see minimum wage incrementally increased to $130 by 2018, a $50 increase from the current minimum wage of $80.

However, Mr. Sou Ieng, a factory owner himself, said that he could personally afford a $4.80 raise to the minimum wage next year, and a $70 raise to the monthly floor wage over the next five years.

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, said that the government was “working hard” to reduce the rate of labor strikes, but that it was ultimately up to employers and unions to manage industrial relations.

“I think that the two sides should turn to negotiations to address concerns and find mutual benefits rather than fight each other to score a victory,” Mr. Sour said.

“The Ministry of Labor only has the duty to help find a compromise, but ultimately the two sides [employers and unions] are the implementers,” he added.

Dave Welsh, Cambodia country director for the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights organization, said that factory owners, by demanding that workers stay off the picket lines, “want to have their cake and eat it to.”

“If management and the industry seriously engaged unions on the issues they are raising on the strike line [such as higher wages, better job security and protection of union leaders] you wouldn’t see this level of labor unrest,” he said.

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