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Workers, Factories Agree to Negotiation Commission

Cambodian garment factory workers wait for the ride in front of their factory to go home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Cambodian garment factory workers wait for the ride in front of their factory to go home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Trade unions and garment manufacturers have agreed to establish a government-brokered commission in order to break an impasse over increased income for workers, after thousands went on general strike earlier this month.

Union and factory representatives met with government officials on Monday, agreeing to establish the commission, with five members each from workers and manufacturers, in order to reach some kind of agreement over monthly income that workers say does not enable them to meet a decent standard of living.

Thousands of workers from one block of unions went on strike earlier this month to demand more negotiations, after manufacturers said they would not increase salaries beyond a $5 raise, for a monthly total of $61, in July.

The strikes cost factories millions of dollars, and some companies have brought lawsuits in its wake. Despite agreeing to the negotiation commission, companies said they would not be deterred from legal action against some strike leaders.

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, said Tuesday his unions had submitted the names of its five commission members to the Ministry of Labor in preparation for the meeting. That list includes himself and four other leaders of unions.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said the group will send its names forward on Wednesday, after which a meeting date can be scheduled.

The general strike, which last four days, comes as Cambodia is looking to rebound from the global financial crisis. Garments remain the country's main earner, ahead of tourism.

The strike also prompted some major clothing distributors, including the Walt Disney Company and Levi Strauss, to issue a call for reconciliation.

“We urge all parties to respect the process and engage in good faith dialogue to find a solution, show commitment to constructive action for a long term solution and refrain from any inflammatory action or counterproductive rhetoric, and find a solution that is inclusive of all parties’ concerns and provides a long term stability for the industry,” they wrote in a letter to the government, unions and GMAC.