PHNOM PENH – The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen (pictured), has promised free legal aid for garment workers as well as calling on factory owners to stop dismissing workers as a way of ending disputes. The charm offensive follows the decision by the EU to begin the process of suspending Cambodia’s preferential access to the EU market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme due to the country’s persistent flouting of core human and labour rights.
Talking to the local media, the PM said: “I have already officially decided. Now I have 2,000 million riel or US$500,000 in my hand to finance the work of my lawyers. But I am asking Ky Tech, the head of the government’s lawyers, to help me in preparing [the group]. This is not from the state budget. It is a budget I raised to establish a group of lawyers to defend poor clients,” he said. He also called on all factory owners to “not use dismissal in disputes. Dialogue between factory owners, unions and worker representatives is really the best way.”
Meanwhile, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia general secretary, Ken Loo, has said suspension of EBA was not “warranted or justified” and will increase tariffs by 12 per cent in the garment sector of Cambodia and by 8 to 17 per cent for footwear products.
“The competitiveness of our sector will unduly be put at risk, the reputation of our industry will be harmed, and Cambodia’s development will be halted,” he said. “All efforts made in building a responsible garment supply chain will be jeopardised and it will be a dramatic setback for workers, especially those from rural communities.” [It has to be said, Mr Loo was strangely quiet on the issue of worker welfare before the EU made its threat.]
He added: “Therefore, GMAC asks the European Commission, Member States, and the European Parliament to carefully evaluate the social and economic impact on Cambodian workers of EBA suspension. GMAC also urges the EU to continue engaging with Cambodian authorities to find a responsible political solution for all parties during that timeframe.”