A Change of Guard

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Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Strike risk recedes as government brokers deal on worker benefits

Workers strike in Phnom Penh.

Monsters and critics
Mar 8, 2011

Phnom Penh (DPA)- A government-imposed deal on benefits for garment workers has lowered the risk of strikes in Cambodia's key export earning sector, observers said Tuesday.

It was announced six months after widespread strikes by tens of thousands of Cambodian garment workers.

Workers were to get an increased monthly attendance allowance, as well as a meal allowance for working overtime and a bonus calculated on the number of years they have been employed.

Moeun Tola, the head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Center, said the deal represented 'positive progress' that would lessen the risk of labour unrest.

Moeun Tola said it was a ruling by the government rather than the result of negotiations between unions and manufacturers, 'so you cannot claim it is democratic.'

'And although it's not 100 per cent satisfactory, it is a positive thing that can contribute and add more benefits to the current low wages of the workers,' he said. 'It is better than nothing.'

Under the new agreement, which takes effect immediately, the monthly attendance bonus is to rise by 2 dollars to 7 dollars a month.

Workers will also earn an extra dollar a month for every year employed, and those working longer hours will get an overtime food allowance of 50 cents.

The government had set March as a deadline for an agreement between unions and employers, but stepped in after they failed to reach a deal.

The minimum wage for garment workers was last year increased to 61 dollars a month, well below the 93-dollar amount unions said their members needed to survive. The improved benefits are to be paid on top of that wage.

Ath Thorn, the president of a garment union whose members went on strike last year, said he accepted the deal but would continue to press for higher attendance bonuses and other benefits.

'We are 70 per cent in agreement, so I am not really happy about the deal but a bit happy,' he said. 'But we agree with the result and will not conduct a strike.'

Ath Thorn said unions still sought a deal on another three allowances to cover living costs, accommodation and lunch.

The head of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia, an industry body, said the deal struck a reasonable balance between the two sides.

The garment sector is Cambodia's largest foreign exchange earner and employs around 300,000 workers.

The sector exported 3 billion dollars worth in 2010, mostly to the United States and the European Union.

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