Unions, GMAC Disagree Over Meeting Events

Representatives of labor unions and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia are at odds over the events of a Nov 2 meeting that sought to renew a year-old memorandum of understanding, both parties said this week.            The MOU – signed on Sept 28, 2010, by GMAC’s Chairman Van Sou Ieng and the leaders of six major unions – was aimed at preventing strikes by simplifying labor dispute resolutions, but included a number of provisions concerning short term contracts, which have proven a controversial issue in recent months. A Nov 2 meeting was organized by the International Labor Organization to negotiate a renewal of the MOU after its one-year deadline.

According to both union and GMAC representatives, discussions during the meeting quickly turned to the use of temporary labor contracts, known as fixed-duration contracts.

GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said both sides agreed to tack on an additional clause to the existing MOU stating that two Labor Law articles will be sent to the Constitutional Council for interpretation and that both parties will comply with the decision. The first, Article 67, describes situations and length under which a fixed-duration contract can be employed, while Article 73 lists the conditions for terminating the short contract.

“Around 7:30 pm, maybe 8 pm, we all agreed to this term,” said Mr. Loo, calling it a “gentleman’s agreement” that has since fallen apart.

“This is a typical reflection of bad faith negotiation,” he said. “How, in the future, can I negotiate with these counterparts?”

However, Cambodian Confederation of Unions President Rong Chhun disputes this account of events.

“GMAC has the right to describe the events that happened, but in reality, there was no agreement,” said Mr. Chhun, adding that the unions did not trust the Constitutional Council to be unbiased.

Ath Thorn, president of Cambodian Labor Confederation, said discussion of the new clause happened very late and that the majority of unions had already left.

“[The additional clause] is not official yet because it still has no agreement signed and 90 percent of union representatives were gone from the meeting,” said Mr. Thorn. “We stand for the implementation of the existing or previous MOU…[without] the additional condition.”

Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for ILO’s Better Factories program in Cambodia, said the current disagreement between the two parties is unfortunate as the previous MOU was considered to be a landmark agreement that seemed to reduce the number of strikes.

“We hope that both sides can find a way to resolve their differences so that they can sign an extension to the MOU,” said Ms. Tucker.

ILO representatives present during the meeting declined to comment on the event.

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