Garment Industry Strikes Flouting the Law, Factory Monitors Say

The number of strikes in the garment sector has tripled since 2011, and of the 108 strikes that took place at factories monitored by the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program over the past year, all of them flouted the Labor Law.

But management also had a significant role to play in the deterioration of industrial relations, according to Better Factories’ 31st “synthesis report” on Cambodia, released Monday.

The report found that between May 1, 2013, and April 30 this year, little was done by management at the 362 garment factories and nine shoe factories it monitors to improve the protection of workers’ rights.

“The report captures a year of ups and downs for the Cambodian garment industry: huge growth, punctuated by mass strikes over the minimum wage, and few notable improvements in working conditions,” Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for Better Factories Cambodia, said in the report.

In November and January, six people were killed in separate garment-sector protests for better working conditions and higher wages. Last year, a partial roof collapse at the Wing Star factory in Kompong Speu province also resulted in the death of two workers.

Ms. Tucker added, however, that there had been some “encouraging changes” in factories following the release in March of Better Factories’ first transparency report since 2005. The report, which publicly named non-compliant factories, found that 10 of the 61 monitored were of “low compliance.”

The synthesis report noted an increase in the proportion of factories in which strikes took place—24 percent, up from 19 percent a year ago.

There was “modest improvement” in the amount of overtime being worked, while more than 20 percent of factories still have locked emergency exits.

BFC said there were three particular areas of concern in the area of workers’ rights: an increase in cases of child labor, an increase in the number of factories discriminating against workers on short-term contracts, and an increase in the number of strikes not complying with the law.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), applauded Better Factories’ findings on illegal strikes.

“We’ve been asking for the government to enforce the laws and regulations surrounding strikes, especially when it comes to the requirements for proper strikes to take place,” he said.

He said GMAC has already made a number of gestures of good faith, such as signing a memorandum of understanding with unions for both sides to follow the Labor Law and the proper arbitration process.

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