Ministry Official Denies Labor Wrongdoing

Cambodia’s top labor official on Thursday denied allegations by a US union that his ministry has undermined efforts to form independent unions.

Speaking at a meeting of government, labor and garment in­dustry representatives, Secre­tary of State Suy Sem said the Mi­nis­try of Social Affairs, Labor and Ve­teran Affairs has tried hard to­ enforce the labor law.

The meeting was in response to a complaint made in June to the US Trade Representative by the American Federation of La­bor and Congress of Industrial Or­ganizations. The organization urged the US to revoke Ge­ne­ra­li­zed System of Preferences trade pri­vileges over allegations that workers’ rights are being abused.

The meeting was called by Cam­bodian-American businessman Ted Ngoy in an attempt to keep the special status.

Although garments do not re­ceive special tariff rates under GSP, workers rights are taken into account when the US does its annual review of GSP status.

The AFL-CIO accused the Soc­ial Affairs Ministry of making it ea­sier for pro-CPP unions to register than opposition affiliated groups, and of interfering in shop steward elections and collective bargaining.

At the meeting, the ministry de­nied any discrimination in the union registration process and stated that it only rejected unions whose applications were in­complete or whose structure did not follow regulations. The ministry statement also re­jected charges that it had interfered with shop steward elections at factories.

Both private and public sector officials at the meeting acknow­ledg­ed there have been some cases of factories breaking the la­bor law, but they blamed it main­ly on cultural misunder­stand­ings; many garment factory owners are from Malaysia, China and Taiwan. They urged both workers and managers to try to work out disputes through mediation.

Cambodia Investment Board Se­cretary General Soun Sothy  asked workers and factories to try to cooperate.

“GSP is the rice pot of the wor­kers and the government,” said Soun Sothy. “With no GSP there will be no investment.”

The meeting came just a few hours after approximately 100  wor­kers at the Chinese-owned Thean Yean Cambodia Gar­­ment factory staged a demonstration in front of the US Em­bassy.

Suy Sem said that a delegation from the Social Affairs Ministry had mediated the dis­pute and the workers would be back on the job today.

Workers at the Meanchey district factory claimed Thursday that managers levy 500-riel fines if workers break needles or stop work to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water.

When the factory’s 500 employees tried to stage a strike Thursday morning, they said, management locked them inside compound gates. The gate was unlocked when the workers started rattling it, they said.



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