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Compliance, Skills Could Help Garments

The garment industry must work to decrease illegal strikes and better train workers before the end of the year, when competition from Chinese could further damage the sector, a new analysis suggests.

Growth within Cambodia’s top industry slowed in 2008, and a recent International Labor Organization report found that of 35 labor strikes in 2007, 32 were illegal. Meanwhile, the amount of value a Cambodian worker can add to a garment is much lower than in neighboring countries.

Price competition is expected to increase when the US lifts safeguards on Chinese exports at the end of the year, according to the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, which issued a monitoring report in July.

“As price competition will likely continue to intensify…Cambodian factories will likely lean on the strategy of labor compliance in the short term and raising productivity and skills in the long term,” according to the report.

Union leaders need to be trained to understand the basics of the global economy and be ready to compete in it, said Kang Chadararoth, director of the Institute.

Workers and managers must learn to resolve their problems to keep a factory viable, he said.

“We have to take responsibility, even if we are workers depending on monthly wages. If the factory is good we get more wages,” he said. “The factory owner also has to do the same thing. If they pay the workers on about working conditions, have good relationships, then the environment of the factory is good, and you are able to compete better.”

Kaing Monika, an official with the Garment Manufacturing Association of Cambodia, said Cambodia had a productivity problem, not a labor compliance problem. Nearly 90 percent of factories complied with labor laws, he said.

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said the government has been aware of the lifting of trade barriers with Vietnam and China and has been preparing for the competition.

“We have made a working conditions policy for all factories to respect the rights of workers, and we use this reputation to attract buyers,” he said. “We are succeeding and we are a country as a good symbol to the world.”