Free Trade Union Reports Overall Jump in Labor Strikes in 2013

The Free Trade Union (FTU) on Monday reported an overall increase in industrial action by its local branches last year with 136 total strikes in the first 11 months of 2013, up 35 percent from all of 2012, when there were 101 strikes by its members.

This increase does not include the 241 strikes by FTU members in December during nationwide strikes, which culminated in police shooting dead five workers and wounding more than 40 on January 3.

Chea Mony, president of the FTU, said the heightened industrial unrest among his workers was a result of the rising cost of living.

“There were a lot of strikes and protests increased because of inflation, so the workers had to demand more salary,” he said. “Also the factory workers are forced to work overtime.”

In order to reduce industrial action, Mr. Mony suggested that the government and factory owners should stop intimidating and firing union activists, and instead deal with the root causes of labor strikes: low salary and mandatory overtime.

Dave Welsh, Cambodia country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said that the increase in labor strikes was a direct result of failures by the government to resolve industrial disputes and implement labor laws within the factories.

“[The garment industry] certainly has a high occurrence of industrial action but the causal effect of that is that [the sector] has one of the weakest applications of labor laws and weakest applications of collective bargaining and strong rates of intimidation against union organizers,” Mr. Welsh said.

“So if [factories] backed down on those issues they would probably see a lower rate of strikes,” he added.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents more than 400 garment and footwear factories in the country, reported 131 strikes in the first 11 months of 2013, resulting in 826,000 days of lost labor.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of GMAC, said that GMAC believed that every strike conducted by unions last year was illegal.

“The point is that the number of strikes is not the concern, the concern is the number of illegal strikes,” he said. “The unions have never respected the law. They have always flouted the law.”

“It has nothing to do with employers disrespecting the law first, or employers refusing to meet to negotiate, that is beside the point,” Mr. Loo said. “The point is that…regardless of their reason, [unions must] strike properly through procedures.”

Prak Chanthoeun, head of the labor conflict department at the Ministry of Labor, said that in order to cut down on strikes next year, the government would educate workers to accept its offer of a $100 base minimum wage.

“About the salary, the government has already organized this for all the workers so they need to understand it clearly,” Mr. Chanthoeun said.

The six nongovernment aligned unions who led strikes and demonstrations last month have already rejected the $100 per month offer, and have promised further strikes if the government and GMAC refuse to meet for new negotiations.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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