The Labour Ministry has reported a sharp drop in the number of strikes and demonstrations involving garment workers last year.
The ministry released its annual report on Tuesday and stated that garment workers went on strike 47 times in 2018, a 51.5 percent drop when compared to 2017’s 97. It added that 10,890 workers went on strike in 2018, a 66.1 percent drop when compared to 2017’s 32,133.
It said that among the 47 strikes, six cases involved blocking roads, one involved violence, 35 involved government intervention and three involved marches.
Additionally, the ministry reported that there were only five demonstrations last year, a 94.4 percent drop when compared to the previous year. It said that last year, 486 garment factory workers had demonstrated, a 91.4 percent drop when compared to 2017’s 5,683.
It noted that last year, 147 new garment factories opened and 135 garment factories closed down.
In its report, the ministry said the drop is due to efforts made by the government to improve labour conditions, including increasing the minimum wage, providing bonuses and facilitating travel during long holidays.
Labour Minister Ith Samheng said the government issued a policy to give pregnant garment workers a three-month maternity leave and 120 percent of their monthly salary after delivery.
“The government has taken so much care of garment workers with these policies,” Mr Samheng said. “We have also provided cheap water and electricity for workers.”
According to the report, the ministry is currently working on hundreds of labour cases involving bonuses and incentives. Mr Samheng said the government is working to clear these issues, including the ones regarding seniority indemnity.
“The big problem for the government is finding a solution to the seniority indemnity problem,” he said. “It is not easy to find a solution.”
Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, yesterday said industry relations, the rule of law and the government all play an important role in reducing the number of strikes and demonstrations.
“Relations between employers, employees and unions are maturing,” Mr Monika said. “They have had good conversations and tolerance because they’ve worked together for a long time.”
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers, said despite the drop, the garment sector still faces challenges regarding labour conditions.
“The number of striking and demonstrating workers is down, which is unexpected,” Mr Sina said. “It doesn’t mean working conditions are better.”
He said that issues such as violations of union rights, short-term contracts, and seniority indemnity remain issues to be addressed.
“The number of strikes and demonstrations is down because the Union Law restricts the rights of unions,” Mr Sina said. “There are many procedures needed to be followed if a union wants to strike or demonstrate because unions are afraid that companies would accuse them of [inciting] workers.”
“Union members are afraid of becoming a victim or face job loss when they lead protests,” he added.
As the figures were released yesterday, former W&D garment workers rallied at Meanchey District Hall to demand their jobs back after they were fired for failing to return to work as ordered by the municipal court following strikes over seniority indemnity.
So Vanna, a former W&D garment worker, said many of the workers do not have money to pay rent.
“The company never appeared during past negotiations. The company is not willing to settle this dispute, even after we stopped demanding our seniority indemnity,” Ms Vanna said. “We are demanding for the return of thousands of workers. Some of them do not have money to pay rent.”