Union leaders appeared to be at odds yesterday over whether garment workers should go ahead with imminent strikes that would see around 80 factories close their doors for a week. Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation–the group spearheading the proposed strikes along with the Cambodian National Confederation–said he would ask members of the CLC and other unions participating in the strikes whether or not to proceed at a meeting today.
“We have not yet made the decision. I had negotiations with employers and now we need to report to our members,” he said.
Mr Thon did not rule out going ahead with the work stoppages–set for Sept 13 to 18–but said negotiations with employers held on Monday had been promising.
“Before they said ‘no way,’ but now we have came together once already,” he said.
CLC Secretary-General Kong Athit struck a more defiant tone.
“We are going to start the strike on the 13th, so we need to organize,” he said, adding that the meeting tomorrow would focus on how to conduct the strike.
Mr Athit admitted that negotiations were still possible, but said the meeting with GMAC on Monday had done nothing to change his mind.
“We got a very negative response from GMAC yesterday…. They are not going to negotiate. They just trick us,” he said yesterday.
Mr Thon emerged from Monday’s meeting saying that GMAC had agreed to negotiate later in the year on salary supplements like overtime pay and an attendance bonus.
Ken Loo, GMAC secretary-general, said he had met Mr Thon informally during another meeting yesterday and “reiterated [GMAC’s] position in case it was misunderstood.”
He said employers would not negotiate again on the minimum wage, a position GMAC has maintained since the Labor Advisory Committee set a new wage of $61 for garment workers on July 8.
“With respect to all other requests, GMAC is open to discussion or negotiation provided one or both of our conditions are met,” he said.
Negotiations could go ahead if unions made all approaches through the LAC, or if they approached employers with a single unified voice and a clear mandate from Cambodia’s garment workers, he said.