Representatives of labor unions and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) are at odds over the events of a Nov 2 meeting that sought to renew a year-old MOU, both parties said this week.
Signed on Sept 28, 2010, by GMAC and six major unions, the MOU aimed at preventing strikes by simplifying labor dispute resolutions, but included a provision about short-term contracts, which has proven a controversial issue. A Nov 2 meeting was organized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to negotiate a renewal of the MOU.
According to both union and GMAC representatives, meeting discussions turned to the use of temporary labor contracts, known as fixed-duration contracts (FDC).
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said both sides agreed to tack on an additional clause to the existing MOU stating that two Labor Law articles will be sent to the Constitutional Council for interpretation and that both parties will comply with the decision. The first, Article 67, describes situations and lengths of time under which an FDC can be employed, while Article 73 lists the conditions for terminating contracts.
“Around 7:30 pm…we all agreed to this term,” said Mr. Loo, calling it a “gentleman’s agreement” that has since fallen apart. “This is a typical reflection of bad-faith negotiation.”
However, Cambodian Confederation of Unions President Rong Chhun disputes this account.
“GMAC has the right to describe the events that happened, but…there was no agreement,” he said, adding that the unions did not trust the Constitutional Council to be unbiased.
Ath Thorn, president of Cambodian Labor Confederation, said discussion of the new clause happened very late and that the majority of unions had already left. “We stand for the implementation of the existing or previous MOU…[without] the additional condition,” he said.
Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for ILO’s Better Factories program in Cambodia, said the previous MOU was considered a landmark agreement that seemed to reduce strikes.
“We hope that both sides can find a way to resolve their differences so that they can sign an extension to the MOU,” said Ms. Tucker.
ILO representatives present during the meeting declined to comment.