Strikes Will Go Ahead, Union Leader Says

The Cambodian Labor Confederation issued an ultimatum to garment manufacturers yesterday, saying they would proceed with a week of strikes on Monday unless negotiations on salary supplements began immediately, union leaders said yesterday.

Emerging from a three-hour meeting with 105 participants representing workers from around 80 factories, CLC President Ath Thon, who led a coalition of 12 other unions, said representatives were unanimous in their support for the strikes.

“One hundred percent of union representatives…agreed to strike,” he said.

He said the only way the strikes could be averted was if employers opened negotiations with the unions before Monday when the work stoppages are to begin.

Following a meeting with the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia earlier this week, union leaders appeared hopeful that a deal could be done to avoid labor action. However that possibility now appears remote.

“I can say categorically there will not be any negotiations before the minimum wage is implemented and that is what we informed [the CLC] on Monday,” GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said yesterday.

He said it would not be possible for the garment association to consult with its members and get a mandate to negotiate in such a short time.

Mr Thon said the unions had dropped mention of the minimum wage from their demands to focus instead on benefits like attendance bonuses and increased overtime pay. He said the unions were now calling for supplements that would bring the average workers’ basic monthly earnings up to around $93.

On Aug 3, the CLC led a group of 12 unions in writing to the Labor Ministry and GMAC, calling for a minimum wage for garment workers of between $73 and $95 per month and asking for a new round of negotiations.

The Labor Advisory Committee instituted a $5 increase in the minimum wage on July 8, bringing it to $61 per month for the 297,000 workers employed in the industry.

“Now we stop demanding a minimum wage and start demanding a decent wage,” said CLC Secretary-General Kong Athit. “The government put pressure on us that if [we] continue to demand the minimum wage increase they say that we are violating the law.”

Mr Athit said the unions planned to deliver their re-worded demands to the Labor Ministry and GMAC today but that he did not expect any movement from employers.

“The problem is the employers delay on the supplementary points to negotiate in November…. We are not confident in changing the employers’ position at the moment,” he said.

More than 80,000 workers from factories in Kompong Cham, Kompong Chhnang, Kompong Speu, Kampot, Kandal and Takeo provinces as well as the capital will strike, he said. They will picket at the factory gates because they do not want to cause any public disturbances, he said.

GMAC’s Mr Loo called on the government to break up the strikes as they had not been arranged in accordance with the country’s labor law.

“We hope that the government…will take action to protect investors,” he said.

SRP party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that the opposition party supported an increased salary for garment workers and defended their right to strike.

“It is the right of the workers under the constitution…. We support the workers’ activities,” he said.

Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical officer at the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories project, said he hoped that a negotiated settlement would still be possible but urged unions to make sure that any strikes “follow the law and keep open the possibility for further negotiation.”

The Free Trade Union–which claims to have more than 86,000 members–released a statement on Sunday calling on workers not to join the CLC-sponsored strikes.

The statement said the FTU wanted employers to provide salary supplements such as rewards for seniority and good attendance and extra overtime pay–three of the items the CLC are now asking for.

FTU President Chea Mony yesterday questioned the CLC’s sincerity, and the legality of the coming strikes.

“Did they submit a letter to the Interior Ministry informing them about their strike? Did they put all efforts into negotiating with GMAC?

“I submitted letters to GMAC twice already demanding what [FTU] members want. GMAC said they will bring my letters to discuss at the LAC but I don’t know when,” he added.


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