Photo by: Will Baxter
Garment factory workers cheer during a protest outside a factory in Canadia Industrial Park during a strike in Phnom Penh last September.
Sunday, 30 January 2011 20:50 James O’Toole and Mom Kunthear
A pair of prominent labour leaders who were at the centre of mass strikes organised by garment workers in September have declined to sign an agreement pledging not to strike following looming negotiations over worker benefits.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, circulated the agreement earlier this month for approval from union and employer representatives involved in negotiations.
Worker and employer representatives are set to negotiate in February on benefits including attendance and seniority bonuses, with the government having ordered them to finalise any agreement by the end of that month.
Failing such an agreement, talks would move to the Labour Advisory Committee, a regulatory body for the sector that also includes government officials.
The document authored by Loo has been signed by four employer representatives and five of the seven union leaders who serve on the LAC.
It calls for all parties to “abide by the LAC decision in case there is a disagreement in the bilateral negotiation” on benefit negotiations, and to “agree to negotiate in … good faith”.
Declining to sign were Morm Nhim of the Cambodian National Labour Confederation and Ath Thorn, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.
Loo said today that the September strikes, in which thousands of garment workers took to the streets to protest against an LAC-approved rise in the minimum wage that they called inadequate, had prompted him to draft the agreement.
“It does not say that you can’t object. It does imply that you cannot stage an illegal strike in objection of the LAC decision,” Loo said.
“As members of the committee, isn’t it assumed that you’re bound by the decisions of the committee?”
Ath Thorn claimed the agreement would “limit us before the negotiation even starts”, though he declined to discuss the prospect of further strikes.
“It is my right to decide whether to sign it or not,” he said.
“I don’t want to say what I will do if we don’t get a good result from the negotiations because I don’t want the employers to think I am issuing a warning, so I will just wait and see the result.”
David Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said the proposed agreement was “positive and necessary”, particularly since Cambodia does not have a well-functioning Labour Court to handle such issues.
“Our approach is that the government actually formalise LAC decisions so that they become binding,” Welsh said, noting that the body has “increasing credibility” among workers.
The proposed agreement, he added, “is ideal if they follow through with it”.