Factory Passes Responsibility On to Strikers

Garment factory workers striking to demand bathroom privacy and an equipped medical center were given two choices by factory representatives Wednesday: Ac­cept responsibility for mass layoffs to compensate for the cost of improvements, or accept conditions as they are.

Approximately 700 employees from Top-One Garments Cambo­dia Mfg Co Ltd abandoned their machines Wednesday to protest nearly a year of fruitless pleas for a bargaining agreement on wages and working conditions.

Factory lawyer David Chanai­wa—criticized by the US and Cam­­bodian governments for mud­­dling labor negotiations—said the union must take responsibility for the problems it would cause workers. Top-One is a small facility that cannot afford to make improvements and keep a full staff, Chanaiwa said. “If the union leader wants us to act according to their requests so that we can enter into the collective agreement, we want the union leader to be re­sponsible for the 300 workers that will lose their jobs without compensation,” he said.

Chanaiwa insisted the factory complies with the labor law, and blamed the union for complicating the on-again, off-again negotiations, which began last December.

Long Poch, deputy president of Solidarity Workers Union of Top-One, said there was no reason the factory could not equip the health center with medicine or offer paid maternity leaves.

“To reduce workers for the medicine—this is their excuse. What we have demanded is equal to the labor law,” she said.

Russei Keo district labor inspector Khem Bunchheang invited the union and managers to negotiate Wednesday, but Long Poch said the offer came too late.

“We couldn’t wait any longer because we waited more than eight months already,” she said.

Jason Judd, American Center for International Labor Solidarity country director, said collective bar­gaining agreements succeed when managers and unions show mutual respect, but it is incumbent on the government to en­­sure a factory bargains in good faith.

“The government can’t pretend to protect workers’ and union rights if they can’t get a boss to go to the table after 12 months,” Judd said.

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