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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 14:28 GMT 15:28 UK
Cambodian workers threaten strike
By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

Cambodian garments workers Sophy and Sophoeun
Cambodia's garment workers face a tough future
The leader of Cambodia's largest trade union group has threatened a general strike if union representatives are taken to court in a garment dispute.

Union officials say workers' rights have been undermined since the end of the garment industry quota system known as the Multi-Fibre Arrangement.

Cambodia is among the countries that stand to lose the most from the end of the quota system.

It will now have to compete with larger and cheaper rivals, such as China.

The union officials were speaking at the launch of a guide by the International Labour Organisation to explain the country's labour law to employers and unions.

The Cambodian unions say the quota system is being used as an excuse to crack down on workers' rights by using police to break up strikes and taking union officials to court.

The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions has issued a report that accuses the authorities of undermining the country's reputation for good labour practices.

The head of the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions, Chuon Mom Thol, is prepared to call a general strike if union officials involved in a factory dispute are prosecuted.

"The employers seem to think of orders rather than working conditions. The disputes seem to be increasing. They don't have any orders and then suspend workers so all of these problems are increasing," he said.

'Teething problems'

Labour Minister Nheb Bun Chin said the garment industry was still very young in Cambodia, and that was behind some of the problems.

Roz Harvey, of the International Labour Organisation, hopes the new guide will help to resolve some of the disputes.

"We can stop disputes occurring by making it clearer what people's rights and obligations are. That is helpful. I think there are broader issues in the industry in Cambodia as there is worldwide, with the end of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement," she said.

Cambodia's policy to ensure the survival of its garment industry is to attract ethically-minded buyers.

How it deals with the current disputes could have significant consequences.

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