Latest Update May 2016: Local partner CLEC helped 74,453 garment workers with free legal assistance this year to fight their cases, 11,680 people earned a higher salary as a result of the minimum wage increase. While the increase is not as high as we would have liked, it’s a definite improvement and due in part to our partners campaigning efforts. The difficult environment our partners operate in was particularly highlighted in Cambodia this year with a newly passed Trade Union law which is imposes a host of restrictions on trade unions which are bad for workers.
Update August 2015: After years of campaigning by our local partner CLEC, fashion retailer H&M adopted a new internal policy for suppliers in March 2015. It says that all Fixed Duration Contracts older than two-years should be changed to Unlimited Duration Contracts. Fixed Duration Contracts are bad for workers because they allow employers to get rid of workers easily simply by not renewing contracts without reason or compensation. This new contract policy will benefit 57,979 workers!
In late 2013, Cambodian garment workers went on a nationwide strike to demand an increase in the minimum wage to $160/month. The strike continued until 3 January 2014 when the government waged a lethal crackdown on the strikers. Four people died, a further 40 were injured and 23 human rights defenders were arrested and detained.
Following the strike, the workers won a 20% increase in the minimum wage, from $61 to $100 per month. Although an improvement, this remains well below what Cambodian workers need to ensure a decent standard of living and following the increase, the government made it illegal for workers to gather in groups of more than 10 people, and banned union registration. Despite resistance from the government, the long strike brought 25 trade unions together to take action, which is unprecedented, unifying the voices of garment workers around a single wage demand of $160 per month.
TRAID is funding a project with Labour Behind the Label and local partner the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) to press for change at a time of global attention and union cohesion to support workers in their quest for a decent minimum wage. The project will train union leaders in labour law and advocacy, provide legal support in cases of labour law violation, to engage brands on labour issues, and to bring international attention to the problems in the garment industry in Cambodia.
At the same time, the project aims to raise the international profile of the struggle for rights and freedoms in Cambodia’s garment industry. Forty workers will be trained as citizen journalists and provided with smartphones to document their activities using film and photography. This footage will be used to lobby brands as well as providing evidence to support complaints to labour bodies. This footage will also be used to make a documentary to pitch to news agencies and for a garment industry blog for consumers in the UK, Europe and America.
Labour Behind the Label will work in collaboration with CLEC on case work and to lobby brands to engage with workers and trade unions where rights have been violated with the aim of resolving cases, and more broadly, to develop an agreement between brands, suppliers and unions to pay a living wage.
The project will provide 400 union leaders with labour law and advocacy training, 30,000 workers are anticipated to take part in events like rallies and worker’s meetings and 40 citizen reporters will be trained and equipped in Cambodia.