The Cambodian labor movement is facing a low point in it’s history and unions need to learn to work together in order to secure better benefits for workers, participants at a conference on the labor movement said Friday.
The two-day conference, which closed Friday, comes just two weeks after at least 20,000 garment workers held wild cat strikes in response to the decision by the government’s Labor Advisory Committee to increase the minimum wage by $5, falling well below the nearly $40 increase some unions wanted.
But unions bare much of the blame for the smaller increase, due to the lack of cooperation and coordination between each other and the fact they are out of touch with workers, said Tola Moeun, program coordinator for the Community Legal Education Center, which hosted the conference.
“It’s a low point,” Mr Moeun said on the sidelines of the conference.
“Through the discussions during the two day conference the unions themselves they recognize that there was a mistake of the unions with solidarity. That’s why there was a low wage increase,” he said.
Mr Moeun said that unions may still have a second chance to get a better deal as the $5 minimum wage will not go into effect until October.
“We want to wake up all the unions to figure out what are their common issues. What is the common ground.”
The call for cohesion of purpose comes with the number of unions growing from 46 to 49 unions in the last three months alone, said Alonzo Suson, country program director for the American Center for the International Labor Solidarity.
Those unions belong to six confederations and one alliance with different affiliations to both political parties and independent organizations. But despite their differences, unions could work together better if they revealed their political connections and how that influences their decisions, Mr Suson said on the sidelines of the conference.
“There’s no ground rules. There’s no discussion. They’re not principled about working together,” Mr Suson said. “There is not an organizational discipline.”
Relations between unions and workers have been particularly tested in recent weeks, which led to the failure to secure a better minimum wage.
“It’s an all-time low in terms of trust,” he said.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, said unions working together is difficult when there is so much corruption within the labor movement.
“Can we work together?” he asked. “We cannot. some unions work for their own interest. Some are under the control of the ruling part.”
Mr Mony, who did not attend the conference and whose union has long been associated with the political opposition, has been criticized for quickly agreeing to the $5 raise.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, agreed that the lack of cooperation between the unions hurts the drive for a better wages.
“We were not united, so we could not get the higher minimum wage,” he said at the conference.
Don Driscoll, a US coordinator for the Service Employees International Union, told participants that while uniting unions around the world is difficult, it is clearly desired by workers.
“It’s why they joined the unions in the first place, to stand together,” he said. (Additional reporting by Chhorn Chansy)