The garment industry continues to be a largest contributor of exports to Cambodia’s economy. It represents approximately 90% of total export value and employs over 300,000 workers. The garment sector has successfully weathered the financial crisis and has since experienced steady growth in production as well as the amount of factories operating within the nation. However, whilst production has exceeded pre-crisis levels, employment is yet to recover to the same extent and remains around 40,000 below its peak figure. This has placed increased pressure on workers who have become increasingly exposed to a precarious state of affairs high-lighted below.
The prevalence of employers utilizing Fixed Duration Contracts (FDCs) has been a concerning phenomenon since 2005, and now characterizes the relationships of the vast majority of those employed within the sector. Prior to this period most garment sector workers were employed under Unspecified Duration Contracts (UDCs), which conferred greater access to rights (such as maternity and indemnity pay) with the accumulation of seniority and limited the circumstances under which lawful termination could take place. FDCs were originally intended to be used for work that was of a temporary nature, such as seasonal projects or to meet spikes in demand. Garment factories in contrast are long-term ventures, but have deployed FDCs due to their ability to be continuously renewed and hence preventing the accretion of benefits by the employees and any expense that might confer on the employer. Furthermore, as the employer is able to choose whether the contract should be renewed after its expiry, the ease of terminating employment relationships is greatly enhanced under FDCs. In practice this has resulted in coercing individuals into overtime, preventing unionization membership, or seeking enjoyment of benefits.
Another issue of concern currently facing garment factories and their workers has been mass fainting. In 2011 year alone, the Free Trade Union has reported some 2,300 workers fainting in 5 Cambodian factories. Whilst currently no workers have suffered serious injuries because of fainting, it remains a worrying trend, which is detrimental to both the public image and efficiency of Cambodian Factories. Investigations and company statements have varied in their conclusions on contributing factors, but many have highlighted physiological causes such as low blood sugar, malnutrition, dehydration, food poisoning and over-exertion. In recognition of this Cambodia’s prime minister Hun Sen instigated a sector-wide pay rise of $5 to be initiated from January 2012, in the hope that this would alleviate some of these causes.
Unfortunately, unionization, the typical means for to redressing imbalances in workers’ rights is also facing an uncertain future. This is a result of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training attempts to draft a law on Trade Unions, which whilst a legitimate notion in itself, has in fact undermined the right for promotion and participation in unions and associations. Whilst successive drafts of the law have seemingly curtailed several worrisome inclusions, including the ability to bring about criminal charges for union wrongdoing, many Articles remain problematic. The overwhelming concern is that the draft law’s character is procedurally excessive and unclear, creating complex legal requirements for registration and activities. Not only do these superfluities stand as an obstacle to the ability of workers to effectively exercise their rights, but also they create a means of arbitrary intervention. For example, if requirements are not followed ‘correctly’ unions’ risk postponement or suspension of their certifications, cancellation of status as a legal entity, and even enforced total structural dissolution.