Top brands fret about Cambodia garment industry unrest
PHNOM PENH — Clothing brands Adidas, Gap, H&M and Levi’s expressed “great concern” at recent unrest in the Cambodian garment industry, as talks between unions and manufacturers kicked off on Monday.
Tens of thousands of textile workers staged a four-day walkout earlier this month to demand higher wages — the latest bout of industrial action in Asia.
In a letter sent to unions and the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia (GMAC) on Friday and seen by AFP on Monday, the major foreign buyers said they had been closely following the recent developments in the industry.
“It is now with great concern that we watch the direction the process is taking,” they wrote.
The letter — which was also signed by The Walt Disney Company — urged both sides to find a “long-term solution” and called for “mature industrial relations”.
GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said nothing had been agreed in the first meeting between manufacturers and unions on Monday, and both sides are to submit a list of five negotiators to the Ministry of Labour by Wednesday.
He added that the unions had not pressed for a minimum wage increase — GMAC had made clear beforehand that was not an option — but asked for an attendance bonus, a seniority bonus, daily food allowances and a living wage allowance.
Ken Loo said there was room to negotiate about the allowances and a deal “is possible.”
Union leader Ath Thun, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, told AFP: “We are hopeful that we will get those demands because all sides have agreed to negotiate to end the issue.”
The garment industry is a key source of foreign income for Cambodia and employs about 345,000 workers.
The strike followed a deal between the government and industry that set the minimum monthly wage for garment staff at 61 dollars, whereas unions want a base salary of 93 dollars.
Unions say about 200,000 workers took part in the walkout but GMAC puts the number at just 45,000, with only around half that actually picketing outside the factory.
The strike ended on September 16 when the government arranged talks between the two sides.
Workers fired for illegal strike
MORE than 3,300 garment workers have been fired from three factories in Kandal province after striking in defiance of court orders, union representatives said yesterday.
Unionists said the workers, who had been striking for around a week and were fired on Friday and Saturday, have threatened to organise larger protests if they are not reinstated in their jobs after an industry meeting today.
Keo Boeun, a union representative at the Goldfame Enterprise factory, said workers at his factory had agreed on Thursday to call off their strike, but had learned upon arrival at work on Friday that many of them had been fired.
“All of the workers agreed to return to work on that day, but there were more than 3,000 workers who were not allowed to work,” he said.
Around 10,000 workers began striking in Kandal province on September 17 to agitate for the reinstatement of more than 200 union representatives who had been suspended following a large-scale strike that began on September 13 and was called off in its fourth day.
Although numbers dwindled throughout last week, an industry representative estimated on Thursday that around 7,000 had ignored warnings that they would be fired if they did not return to work as ordered by the court, which had deemed the strikes illegal.
Labour leaders called off the original strike, which was spurred largely by a July decision that set the industry minimum wage at US$61 per month, after the Ministry of Social Affairs called for a meeting, scheduled to take place today, to discuss potential “benefits” for workers earning the minimum wage.
Keo Boeun said yesterday that the fired workers would strike if they were not reinstated after the meeting.
“The workers said that if the factory owners don’t allow them to return to work after the meeting between the unionists and the Social Affairs Ministry officials, a big strike will start again,” he said.
Un Sokrith, a union representative at the Winner Garment factory, said 237 garment workers had been fired on Saturday. Phin Sophea, a union representative at River Rich garment factory, said 108 workers had been fired. Both said workers would strike if they were not reinstated.
Chea Vuthet, a representative from Goldfame factory, declined to comment yesterday. Representatives from the other two factories could not be reached.