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Unions Want Longer Contracts for Workers

Labor activists met with international union reps in Kandal province on Sunday as part of a wider effort to improve contracts workers have with their employers.

The educational meeting was an effort to convince workers to refuse short-term labor contracts in favor of longer guarantees.

More than 100 garment factory workers met with union representatives from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Belgium.

Of Cambodia’s 400 legal and illegal factories, about 60 percent of them apply short-term contracts for workers, said Ath Thum, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, during the campaign.

Short-term contracts put pressure on employees, who can easily lose their jobs, he said. They push employees to work longer hours and dissuades them from joining the trade unions that can protect them, he said.

“We explained to them the inconvenience of the short-term contract,” he said, adding that they were encouraging workers to “gather in one voice to claim the elimination” of such contracts. “If employers continue to use these contracts, it means they abuse the law.”

Cambodia’s $2.4-billion garment sector employs more than 300,000 workers, with wages ranging between $30 to $100 per month. The industry has struggled to compete with other nearby countries, where labor can be cheaper or more skilled or both.

Ath Thum said the reliance on short-term contracts meant limited experience for workers, adding to the the lack of competitiveness. Ath Thum said he plans to lead a campaign against the contracts in garment industrial zones in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kampong Speu and Preah Sihanouk.

“I wish for employers to stop from now on the short-term contract,” said On Phally, a garment factory worker from Takeo province who attended Sunday’s meeting.

Yin Serey Vathanak, national project coordinator for the International Labor Organization, said Sunday’s meeting was also to help the government “understand what workers are facing.”

“The workers can’t support these contracts, and the government must settle this problem,” he said.

Koy Tep Daravuth, director of the conflict resolution department of the Ministry of Labor, said short-term contracts were legal and were “no violation” of worker rights.

Still, labor leaders from other countries said Sunday Cambodian unions need to push for the elimination of short-term employment.

“There is a lot of violence, a lot of problems, with short-term contracting,” said Ferdra Vanhuyse, Asia coordinator for the Belgium-based World Solidarity Movement.

She said her organization hopes to bring short-term contracts onto the political agenda at an annual ILO meeting in Geneva that begins in June.