Industry leaders reacted favorably Wednesday to an announcement by Cambodia’s most active labor union that it would shift its tactics away from strikes as its primary weapon in labor disputes.
The Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia announced Wednesday that it planned to implement a system of bargaining and contracts for negotiation on a factory-by-factory basis.
The move was widely hailed as a positive step for Cambodia’s garment industry—its biggest export earner—as well as a sign of union maturity.
“It’s one less headache for factory owners,” said Honey Mindanao, project supervisor with the Luen Thai Garment Co, Ltd. “It’s about time someone works on this.”
Luen Thai’s only union is the Free Trade Union, an organization known for it’s strikes, both planned and wildcat.
Mindanao called the strikes that had occurred in the past something “no one can control.”
Industry leaders have continually warned that too many strikes eliminate the stability that overseas businesses look for before investing in the country.
And while the strikes led by the Free Trade Union and others have brought greater attention to the garment sector and rights abuses occurring within it, the union said on Wednesday it recognized that too many strikes were doing more harm than good for the industry.
“At least the union is getting more organized,” Mindanao said. “It’s starting to get more sensible.”
The move was also hailed by rights activists and government trade officials.
“It makes good sense,” said Jason Judd, country representative for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. “If unions want to make real gains, you have to bargain.”
While the move toward collective bargaining agreements would goes well with the labor law, it means unions and factories will have to create contracts together.
And with around 200 factories in Cambodia, that could take some time.
“It will take years for this to mature,” Judd said, adding that there are often good reasons for workers to strike, even if events that set off the strikes may seem insignificant.
“Workers aren’t striking for nothing,” he said. “The idea that these guys are striking for kicks is ridiculous.”
Officials for the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, which represents managers, were not available for comment Thursday.
But Ministry of Commerce Secretary of State Sok Siphana also called the move a step forward.
“In the end, this is where the union shows more maturity by using the law more for its effect,” Sok Siphana said.
Strikes would still occur, he said, but they shouldn’t be the first offensive weapon for unions. “You use the strikes only when everything fails.”
Negotiations, he said, “are a win-win situation.”