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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cambodia: UN report voices some concern over rights of garment workers

16 December 2009 – Although working conditions in Cambodian garment factories continue to improve, some concern remains over restrictions imposed on workers’ rights and lingering discrimination, according to a new report from the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) released today.

ILO’s Synthesis Report on Working Conditions in Cambodia’s Garment Sector, which assesses compliance with Cambodian labour law and international labour standards, noted generally high levels of conformity despite increased pressure on the clothing industry from the current economic crisis which is responsible for the closure of 70 factories and the shedding of 70,000 jobs in the country.

The report raises some unease over the drop in the proportion of factories whose workers belong to a trade union. The figure is down by eight per cent from the previous report, to about 76 per cent of factories monitored.

In addition, the percentage of factories that discriminated against workers, usually based on gender, is slightly down but still remains at 10 per cent of the 172 businesses monitored, with 1 per cent of factories engaging in anti-union discrimination and 3 per cent interfering with workers’ rights to freedom of association.

The report noted that there is now full compliance with minimum wage requirements for regular workers – up from 99 per cent – but no change for casual workers, with 11 per cent of factories employing such staff failing to meet minimum pay standards.

ILO said that now more than ever, the industry needs to focus on increasing productivity and maintaining “industrial peace” to ensure continued success in the garment sector.

In partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia division is overseeing a study examining the social and economic effects of the recession on a group of 2,000 garment workers, both employed and unemployed.

The study’s initial results show that even among workers who are employed, nearly half have experienced a reduction in their income compared to last year, providing an argument for developing social safety nets as most workers have very few savings to help them ride out the crisis and a single income usually supports several family members.

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