Governor Urges Garment Bosses To Change

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara told garment manufacturers Thursday that police will continue to protect their property—but that they also need to treat their workers better.

The governor, speaking to a packed conference room at the municipal headquarters, said factory owners must bear some of the blame for recent labor unrest.

He said workers complain of poor working conditions and say they are harassed or even beaten, usually by factory security. Some say their salaries were illegally cut or that promised bonuses were not paid on time, he said.

“You and your workers are one big family,’’ Chea Sophara told the manufacturers. “Workers need dignity. They don’t need to be hit by anybody. If there are conflicts, they should be solved according to the law.’’

If the workers were treated better, he said, they wouldn’t be so quick to respond when union leaders call on them to strike. He also urged factories to provide dining facilities for workers, so they did not have to stream out to food carts and restaurants at mealtimes, disrupting traffic.

Chea Sophara had invited the manufacturers to discuss security after a one-week strike that snarled traffic and strained nerves in the city’s factory districts.

The strike briefly flared into vio­lence, as mobs of demonstrators twice tried to storm factories. In the worst such incident, the mob was dispersed with shots fired overhead by factory security.

Union leaders say that at its peak, the strike closed down 65 of the nation’s approximately 220 garment and shoe factories. Given the nature of the strike—varying numbers of workers were involved on given days in three main locations—accurate numbers were hard to come by.

Labor organizers estimated that as many as 10,000 of the country’s 130,000 garment-and-shoe workers took part. Manu­facturers said that is less than 10 percent of the workforce.

Some manufacturers had complained that the city was slow to respond to their calls for help, leading to broken windows and damaged gates at some factories.

Klang Huot, governor of the city’s Tuol Kok district, said some factory owners had been uncooperative.

“Some factories did not want local authorities to solve their problems, but [hired] soldiers to guard the factories,’’ he said.

He urged them to depend instead on the official police.

Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Asso­ciation, said factory owners appreciated the advice as well as the governors’ commitment to providing a safe and stable working environment.

“We think, in the last few days, we have learned that violence cannot solve any problems,’’ he said. “That’s why we are encouraging the labor unions to negotiate.’’

A meeting of the Labor Advi­sory Committee has been set for July 6. The committee, made up of representatives from five labor unions, five manufacturers and 10 government officials, is charged with resolving labor differences.

Van Sou Ieng said the industry has grown so fast over the past five years that there were bound to be problems, but most manufacturers treated their workers well.

“There are always a few bad apples in any bunch,’’ he said.

But, he said, if the country’s wor­kers were treated as badly as the unions claim, “there would be 50,000 people in the streets, not a few thousand.’’

Manufacturers also said better city services would improve the quality of life for both workers and management. A manager with Wearwel Cambodia Ltd said the roads around his Veng Sreng Highway factory are poor and lack streetlights.

He also noted that there are about 40 factories in that area, with no nearby fire station. “There should be a fire station, for worker safety,’’ he said.

Chea Sophara said the city doesn’t have the money to build more stations, but officials would negotiate with manufacturers to see if  a solution is possible.

 

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