NGO to Negotiate the Return of Union Reps

An international labor rights NGO has offered to mediate the le­gal dispute between union representatives and garment factories, the NGO’s director and union and factory representatives said this week.

Last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly called for courts to drop cases against union representatives suspended for their part in last month’s garment industry strikes.

Some courts have moved quickly to comply with the premier’s wishes, while other cases are still dragging on. Union leaders claim more than 100 representatives are still being shut out by factory bosses.

David Welsh, country director of the American Center for Inter­na­tional Labor Solidarity, said on Wednesday that his center would provide training for suspended union representatives at River Rich Textile factory in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district next week.

At the same time, the center will “see if River Rich is willing to strike up ad hoc negotiations” on allowing the union representatives to return, he said. The factory has not agreed to this yet, but Mr Welsh said conversations with management had been “very positive.”

Ek Sokpheakdey, deputy president of the Cambodian Labor Con­federation—the group that led last month’s strikes—said the CLC would cooperate with the ACILS to find a solution.

“This assistance is still not official, but they could help us,” he said.

Interviewed earlier this week, River Rich manager Sung Chung Men said the ACILS had offered to facilitate negotiations and hoped they would help the situation.

Mr Sung said that the factory was willing to consider taking back around 350 workers who were suspended for not obeying a court order compelling them to return to work, but that it would be more difficult to accept the 24 union representatives.

The ACILS—which has NGO status but is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, a powerful US labor union—believes last month’s strikes were conducted legally, Mr Welsh said, but wants the representatives to “make a commitment not to go on illegal strikes.”

Mr Welsh said shutting out union representatives would present a negative image to the international community, and to international buyers.

“It just looks terrible to terminate your entire union staff,” he said.

Mr Welsh said his center would offer the same service to all factories that have reservations about taking representatives back.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Asso­ci­ation in Cambodia, said yesterday that factories were concerned union representatives would not stick to commitments they make to the ACILS.

“[The ACILS] is not at the factory on a daily basis,” he said.

He said management at River Rich wants to continue with legal action against union representatives.

“[GMAC] have informed them of the prime minister’s suggestion…but ultimately they have to listen to their owners.” Mr Loo said.

Phin Sophea, one of the union representatives suspended by River Rich, said he welcomed the labor NGO’s assistance.

“I don’t decline to participate in this training in order to get my job back,” he said.

Some workers claim the suspension has left them short of cash during the Pchum Ben holiday.

“I didn’t get my salary paid,” said Loe­ut Sopanith, a worker at Goldfame Enterprises (Int’l) Knit­ters, also in Sa’ang district. “I cannot go to my home because I don’t have enough money.”


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