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.