Garment unions join global campaign to protect workers4 min read

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Members of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers hold signs as part of global union federation IndustriALL's campaign against union busting on September 4. CUMW
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Several of Cambodia’s independent garment workers’ unions joined a global anti-union busting campaign this month as leaders and activists have said they are facing discrimination, with hundreds of members laid off in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. 

IndustriALL Global Union called on its members, including 10 Cambodian unions and federations, to take action to protect the rights of textile workers.

“As part of IndustriALL’s global campaign to protect the rights of workers in the textile and garment sector, join our global day of action to support the many workers across the sector who are standing up for their rights to form a union,” the group said in an announcement posted on their website.

“The online global day of action on September 4 will focus on making our collective voice heard to demand that union busting in the textile and garment supply chain must end.”

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), the unions joined the day of action to protest union busting efforts that have been taken under the guise of necessary lay-offs due to Covid-19.

“Nowadays, I see union’s freedom’s being walked back, so we must send a joint message to the world to ask global governments to protect the freedoms of unions and to not abuse or discriminate against them,” Sina said.

Dozens of factories have been accused of union busting activities this year, unjustly firing hundreds of union members, leaders and activists, according to union chiefs. 

Sina said the trend of discrimination against union members was deeply concerning, and also spread to local authorities’ efforts to stop unions from gathering in protest and from attending negotiations on wage issues with factory management.

“They try to ban us from attending negotiations [on wages] or other meetings in the local area,” Sina said.

The union leader added that the firing of union members was infringing workers’ rights under national and international law.

“We want to ask the world and global government leaders to pay attention to the freedoms of workers in all countries and to promote their rights, to allow them to join union movements that are helping make unions’ power and employers’ power equal,” Sina said.

Ath Thorn, president of Cambodian Labor Confederation, which is also a member of IndustriALL said the campaign was meant to protect workers’ right to unionize.

“Generally, employers are always looking for ways to weaken unions to make it easier for them to oppress workers,” Thorn said. “So the unions’ side wants to find a way for the union to have a balanced power to talk to the employer to protect the interests of workers.”

Thorn said he supports the global federation’s message as firings and arrests of union leaders, as well as discrimination against them has increased in recent months.

“I think the government should tighten the law to ban employers from discriminating, because the employers are like tigers and everyday they have the opportunity to abuse unions and workers,” Thorn said.

“If the government does not protect them, then there is no neutrality and the employer becomes more powerful,” Thorn added.  

Sot Chet, a CUMW officer who participated in the campaign on September 4, said local unions and workers joined because both employers and authorities were currently pressuring unions.

“In the past, local union leaders were always discriminated against and busted by employers or authorities,” Chet said, adding that if the abuse continued, union leaders would seek a resolution through legal means.

CUMW Secretary-General Preap Munisovann used the occasion to call on employers to reinstate union members who have been fired since the outset of Covid-19.

“The Collective Union of Movement of Workers, would like to point out that a lot of union members and local union representatives of CUMW have been dismissed from work in the period of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis in the world and Cambodia, causing them to seriously struggle with supporting their families in this critical situation,” Munysovann said in a post on the group’s Facebook page. “The Collective Union of Movement of Workers hopes that employers will consider reinstating all dismissed workers and local union representatives to work in the companies, including back pay since their dismissals.”

Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said there is a law to follow, so unions should understand that if they feel employers are acting illegally, they must follow procedures to complain to the Labor Ministry.

“We do not know of any major issues in stopping union leaders, but what we know is that there have been many work suspensions and [employers] have not renewed contracts because they are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis, with fewer production orders,” Monika said.

He said that according to the Labor Law, when a worker arrives at the end of their contract, employers have the right to not renew it, which is different from firing the employee.

“In fact, we push both parties — employers and employees — to respect the law together,” he said. “If we think that any party is not respecting the law, we can use the procedures to file a complaint to the relevant institution.”

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment.–

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