Monday, 2 March 2009

ILO series nears completion

Actresses on location in Phnom Penh filming the ILO's soap opera. The educational series aims to teach workers about their rights.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Monday, 02 March 2009

Educational series dramatises some of the challenges faced by Cambodia's garment workers and educates them about their rights and responsibilities.

FILMING wrapped last month for the final two episodes of the soap opera At the Factory Gates, produced by the International Labour Organisation to shed light on issues in the garment industry and, in particular, the plight of garment workers.

The episodes feature appearances by Cambodian actors Nhem Sokun and Pov Kisan. In the first episode, titled "Overtime", gangsters set workers up with factory jobs in exchange for a share of their overtime payments before factory managers and union representatives step in to warn the workers about the perils of associating with "middlemen".

In the second, titled "Life Skills", female garment workers are tricked by the same gangsters to work in karaoke bars.

Previous episodes in the eight-part series have dealt with issues such as occupational safety and health, working mothers and breast-feeding, and how to handle workplace grievances.

The first two episodes were funded by the American clothing company Gap Inc, and the next four were funded by the United States Agency for International Development. Agence Francaise de Developpement provided funding for the final two.

Minna Maaskola, a consultant for the ILO's Better Factories Cambodia, said the soap opera had proved to be a particularly effective educational tool, in part because the literacy rate among garment workers is low.

The episodes, she said via e-mail, give garment workers "an easy way to learn about their roles and responsibilities".

"While viewing the films, workers can link their own working experience to the issues in the video," she said.

The drama and humour written into each episode as well as the use of well-known Cambodian actors had appealed to audiences so far, she added.

An educational experience
For the actors themselves, the process of filming the episodes made them more knowledgeable about the garment industry, they said.

Movie actor Pov Kisan plays a villain named Kosal who serves as the leader of a protest who agitates only for the sake of agitating and has little interest in resolving conflicts with his employers. As a result, Kosal is put in jail for one year. After his release, he is more willing to negotiate and ultimately receives an award from the Ministry of Interior for his cooperation with police and other authorities.

Pov Kisan, who has been playing villains for more than two decades, said he enjoyed playing a multifaceted character.


"I cry in the film, and I have never had to act like that before," he said. "This is a great story, and the film crew pushed me to express new feelings."

He added, "Among the educational films I have done, I like this ILO series the most."

Nhem Sokun plays Dara, a union president who urges workers to resolve disputes with their employers. In the first two episodes of the series, he explains to workers which forms of protest are legal and which are not.

"It is hard for me to act in this kind of film because I have to remember key terminology for the labour sector, which I have never used before," he said.

"It is not easy to act in the series. This kind of character is knowledgeable about the labour law. He pursues justice and helps garment workers who are in trouble."

He said he believes the series is "balanced" in that it is sympathetic to the positions of employers as well as frustrated workers.

"It is an educational film that everyone - but especially garment workers - should view because it will help them find solutions to disputes in their working life," he said.

The producer of the series, Nick Wood, said it was demanding to write episodes that would appeal to all sides of the typical labour dispute - workers, government officials and unions.

"The hardest thing was writing a film that was believable, entertaining, informative and dramatic and that would appeal to" these various parties, he said.

"The easiest thing was working with motivated, committed and talented Khmer actors and a great production team."

Minna Maaskola said production of the final two episodes would take about one month to complete and that she was not sure when they would air on television.

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