The number of strikes in the garment and footwear industries decreased by 2 percent compared to 2014 while the number of demonstrations increased, according to a Ministry of Labor report released yesterday. In the report, the ministry said there were 336 strikes in 2015 – 257 of which occurred in Phnom Penh – with 82,458 participants. During those strikes, roads were blocked eight times, and 18 strikes featured some aspect of violence. With intervention from the ministry, the report read, 326 cases that led to strikes were solved while 10 cases remained unsolved.
2014 saw more strikes, with 342 total and 251 in Phnom Penh, while some 137,708 strikers participated in the gatherings which blocked roads 19 times, featured violence 12 times and marches 32 times. 331 cases were solved, while 11 cases remained unsolved.
The report said there were 192 demonstrations in 2015 – 140 of which took place in Phnom Penh – featuring 19,274 participants. 185 cases surrounding the protests were “resolved” while seven remained unsolved.
Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation (NTUC), said yesterday that neither the committee for the settlement of strikes and demonstrations nor the Ministry of Labor was capable of solving specific worker issues. Despite making an effort to resolve protesting workers’ problems, Mr. Sally pointed out that in many cases those same workers had to return to the ministry for help and continue to protest.
“The Ministry of Labor and also the committee do not have enough abilities to solve labor disputes for the demonstrators or strikers. They are not strict to the employers who abuse the Labor Law. So, it is the reason why those involved officials do not have the full ability to intervene for the strikers. We find workers always return to the front of the ministry and in front of the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house or the National Assembly for help,” said Mr. Saly.
Labor Minister Ith Samheng denied the allegations against his ministry, saying they did not ignore any cases that followed the legal process.
He said that the ministry always makes an effort to solve workers’ problems.
“I would like to say that the ministry did not fail to solve any strikes or demonstrations since the start of our work. If they were not solved by the Labor Ministry, it would be forwarded to the arbitration council and lastly the courts,” Mr. Samheng said.
In a report by the Arbitration Council Foundation (ACF) last year, they said demands for higher wages and meal allowances, disputes over unfair dismissals and alleged union discrimination are among the main causes behind most strikes at textile and footwear factories.
The report painted a troubling picture of the garment industry, using statistics and anecdotes to illustrate that the industry is unraveling due to “a lack of professionalism, dispute-resolution management, and ethical unions and employers.”
The report notes that “the right to strike is fundamental to freedom of association and a functional industrial relations system,” but also warns that “excessive numbers of strikes can be a symptom of undeveloped or ineffective industrial relations and human resource processes.”
On June 30, 2015, hundreds protested against the new NGO law in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. KT/Fabien Mouret