* Across Asia’s Borders, Labor Activists Team Up to Press Wage Claims:
Said Iqbal, head of the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions, speaks in front of workers during rally demanding an increase in salaries at Pulogadung Industrial Estate in Jakarta, October 31, 2013. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)
Labor leaders behind the biggest strikes in Cambodia’s $5 billion garment industry knew last year they had a strong case for higher wages: they had already compared notes with activists in neighboring countries.
The result was a 25 percent increase in the minimum pay for an estimated 600,000 garment workers, to $100 a month, the biggest jump in around 15 years. Now, they’re asking for more.
Negotiations over pay and working conditions have typically remained within national borders, but activists are now bringing more muscle to the table and putting more pressure on employers and governments by using shared experiences in nearby markets.
For global companies that have shifted production to Southeast Asia’s low-cost manufacturing hub, this could mean less room for wage bargaining, a squeeze on profits and maybe even higher price tags on anything from shoes and clothing to cars and electronics appliances.
“I see a trend towards more and stronger collaboration among labor leaders that can take different shapes and forms, from exchanging information to partnerships,” said Peter van Rooij, director of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Jakarta, noting ties would likely strengthen with next year’s planned economic integration by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
Thousands of workers in China, Indonesia and Cambodia have protested in recent months at local firms supplying US sportswear company Nike Inc to press for better pay and conditions. Up to 4,000 workers at Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing Co, which makes clothes for Nike, went on strike in May last year demanding higher wages to keep pace with transport, rent and healthcare costs.
Across Asia’s low-cost garment manufacturing industry in particular, there have been more strikes as unions use a shortage of skilled workers to press for better pay and improved safety — an issue highlighted by the April 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh, which killed at least 1,130 people.
Members of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) have reported a jump in the number of strikes to 147 last year from fewer than three dozen in 2011. Other international brands hit by protests at Cambodia-based suppliers last year include H&M Hennes and Mauritz AB, Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Gap Inc and Puma SE.
Following the Bangladesh disaster, local unions reached out to international labor representatives, said Annie Adviento, director of IndustriALL’s Southeast Asia office, helping create the landmark Accord on Fire and Building Safety — a legally binding agreement signed by more than 150 apparel firms and the unions that requires factories to have independent safety inspections with the results made public.
IndustriALL, which represents 50 million workers in 140 countries worldwide, said it arranges meetings two to three times a month to bring together labor activists from across Asia, something that was rarely done before last year.
“Issues are not being kept secret at the national level anymore. The capacity of the unions to share information has improved,” said Adviento.
“Our motto is clear — say no to cheap wages. We’re spreading that principle in Southeast Asian countries,” he (Said Iqbal) told Reuters.
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* Connecting Workers Around Asia for Workplace Safety:
The Asia-Pacific region is facing an occupational safety and health epidemic of unknown proportions because data on workplace hazards is not being collected, according to a 2012 report by the Asia Monitor Resource Center (AMRC), written with input from grassroots worker rights organizations in six developing Asian countries.
Without such data, workers are often unaware of the risks they face on the job, mitigating their ability to prevent deadly diseases or injury. And if they fall ill, they often are undiagnosed or untreated.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1996 adopted the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health, (Convention 187). The standard builds on ILO Convention 155, which requires that every ratifying
country “formulate, implement and periodically review” a national policy on occupational safety and health.
A 2010–2012 ILO pilot project in five countries involved “sensitization activities to convince government officials to include occupational health and safety concerns as
part of national development plans” because translating ILO safety and health standards into real practice at national and workplace levels remains a challenge.”
Responding to this unmet need, a unique coalition of trade unions and other civil society organizations formed a regionwide coalition to assist workers exposed
to dangerous and unhealthy workplaces, training victims to become advocates and spokespeople, and make positive change at the workplace and in the legislature.
|The Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational and Environmental Victims (ANROEV) and its member organizations are empowering workers who bear the
weight of the Asian growth model at the risk of their health, livelihoods and lives.
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01:03:18 local time CHINA
* Local trade union indifferent to workers’ struggle at Shenzhen factory:
When Zhou Jianrong and her husband first arrived 12 years ago at the gates of what is now GCL Footwear in Shenzhen, the factory seemed to offer one of the best deals in town, especially for unskilled migrant workers such as themselves.
The factory produced shoes for well-known foreign brands, paid competitive piece-rate wages and provided long service bonuses for senior staff.
Things began to unravel however a year or so ago when the factory changed ownership and announced plans to restructure. The workers, who had seen many other factory workers in Shenzhen lose their jobs or get cheated out compensation in similar situations, went out on strike in May 2014 in a bid to protect their interests. The boss responded by firing 109 of the strikers, including Zhou Jianrong.
When she heard the news, early on the morning of 17 July, Zhou climbed to the top of the four-storey factory building and jumped to her death. In the aftermath of the tragedy, CLB Director Han Dongfang talked to Zhou’s husband Li Fengrong and an official from the local trade union about the background to the dispute and the role of the union in it.
00:03:18 local time CAMBODIA
* More Factories Hit by Faintings; 1 Forced to Shut:
At least 140 workers fainted in three separate Phnom Penh factories Monday, forcing one of the factories to cease operations until it can be fitted with proper ventilation.
Monday’s incidents come after a weekend of mass faintings at the same industrial park over the weekend, when another 140 people fainted at six factories. These bring to about 1,000 the number of faintings in garment factories around the country so far this year, surpassing last year’s total of 823.
“Today, 79 workers from Papillion Textile, 55 workers from Dongdu Textile, and six from Newpex II fainted,” said Pok Vanthat, deputy director of the Ministry of Labor’s health department. All the factories are located in the Vattanac II Industrial Park in Dangkao district.
“These garment workers started fainting since Friday at the Newpex II factory, because the factory is very hot and has no fans or air-conditioning.”
About 20 workers from the same factory also fainted on Friday, he said.
“After seeing workers from other factories faint because some workers from this factory fainted, we decided to close the [Newpex II] factory temporarily until it solves the problems within the factory,” Dr. Vanthat said, adding that the workers have been given two weeks off work with pay.
“The workers who fainted in the other factories will be allowed to relax for three days or a week.”
Dongdu Textile worker Seng Sor Phea, 36, said she felt overcome after smelling something bad as she worked.
“I ran outside because I got dizzy and vomited after seeing more than 10 other workers faint this morning,” she said outside the factory Monday.
* More Cambodian workers faint at 3 garment factories:
At least 140 Cambodian garment workers at three factories at the Vattanac II Industrial Park in Phnom Penh got fainted on Monday due to poor health, a senior labor official said.
Pok Vanthat, deputy chief of the labor ministry’s labor health department and head of a committee that aims to prevent fainting in factories, said workers fainted because they got fatigue.
“The factory employers had sent them to hospitals soon after the incidents and they had recovered after medical attention,” he told reporters while inspecting the factories.
Faintings have happened at several factories at the industrial park since Friday when about 130 workers fainted due to poor health.
Pok Vanthat said that since the start of this year, more than 1, 000 workers at 26 garment and footwear factories got fainted due mainly to overwork, poor health, exposure to chemical substances, and hysteria.
Garment and footwear industry comprises 960 factories with approximately 620,000 workers. The sector is the kingdom’s largest foreign exchange earner that generated nearly 3 billion U. S. dollars in revenues in the first six months of 2014.
A monthly minimum wage for workers is 100 U.S. dollars.
* Union leader arrested at strike in Svay Rieng:
A union leader was detained briefly by police in Svay Rieng province yesterday while peacefully monitoring a garment worker strike.
According to striking worker Pum Sokunthy, 25-year-old Tun Saren, the director of the Svay Rieng branch of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), was arrested at about 9:30am after hundreds of You Li International (Cambodia) employees blocked National Road 1 in front of the factory while negotiations were taking place inside.
“I and other CUMW representatives were negotiating with labour officers and the deputy town governor when people in the union said Tun Saren was picked up . . . [so] we put off the negotiations,” Sokunthy said.
He added that workers marched to the provincial police station, where Saren was being held, to demand his release, which was granted at around 1:30pm.
The strike, which had entered its fifth day yesterday, had nearly come to a close with only two of 10 points – including bonuses and the wages of seamstresses – left to be settled.
Following his release, Saren told the Post he had refused requests from the police to end the strike.
“They asked me to thumbprint [a document] and take responsibility for the road block and stop striking, but I did not,” he said. “I’m not afraid of any threat”.
* Union Official Arrested for ‘Inciting’ Workers:
A union activist was arrested Monday and accused of inciting striking garment factory workers to block National Road 1 in Svay Rieng province, according to authorities and the union’s president.
It follows a spate of similar arrests of at least nine union leaders—all since released—in May.
Tuon Saren, a worker representative at You Li garment factory in Bavet City, who has been leading 800 workers in industrial action since last Monday, was Monday arrested by local police and released without charge.
Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said Mr. Saren was apprehended by police shortly after workers ended a blockade of the highway.
“That is a violation of his rights when he worked only to protect the workers,” Mr. Sina said.
The workers have been calling for on-site medical care, an additional $10 per month for 18 months for women workers who give birth, more fans to cool the factory and improved toilet facilities.
Mr. Sina said the factory had agreed to all of the union’s demands except for bonuses for workers who exceed production targets and an extra $5 per month for staff with special skills in using machinery.
Keo Sotha, provincial chief of the minor crimes police, said the union was responsible for the workers’ decision to block the road.
“We arrested [Mr. Saren] because he incited the workers to block National Road 1 and this has an effect on other businesses,” he said, adding that Mr. Saren received an “education” from police and was told to stop similar protests from happening again.
* Abuse of migrants rife: report:
From forced marriage in China to daily 20-hour shifts on fishing boats, most Cambodian workers face some kind of abuse when they leave the country to escape “desolate” work opportunities and low wages, a report from the Community Legal Education Center says.
Released last night, The Risk of Movement: Migration in Cambodia 2013 details the experiences of workers that CLEC helped free from abusive situations last year.
“More often than not, Cambodian workers will … experience abuse at the hands of their employers in their destination countries,” the report says, adding that the NGO worked on more than 100 cases of trafficking in 2013.
Although most workers are “largely migrating voluntarily”, low wages and limited opportunities domestically are proving “push factors”, forcing those desperate for money to take risks.
“As a direct result of wage dissatisfaction, many Cambodians have reported that they are being forced to migrate to other countries within the region for any hope of receiving a higher wage,” the reports says, adding that the Kingdom has not kept apace with the region when it comes to wage increases.
* The Risk of Movement: CLEC 2013 Annual Migration Report:
In June 2014 the IOM and Cambodian government tracked an exodus of more than 200,000 migrant workers crossing the border from Thailand back into Cambodia.
The mass migration came on the heels of political disruption and rumored violence against Cambodians in Thailand. More than 50% of those returning were illegal or undocumented migrants, and less than one month later many were already claiming they had plans to return to Thailand as soon as possible.
The event has raised many questions amongst aid groups and migration experts; namely, how the Cambodian government can help to ensure that their migrants are better protected in the future.
From January to December 2013, CLEC worked on more than 100 ongoing and new cases of labor trafficking and consulted with an estimated 300 families who have been involved with the process of both legal and illegal migration.
From these cases, CLEC was able to compile a body of statistical and qualitative evidence in an effort to understand the underlying complexities behind Cambodian labor migration.
Our findings overwhelmingly supported the theory that Cambodian migrants have chosen to migrate due to inadequate wages and desolate employment opportunities at home.
Furthermore, our findings show that many migrants choose this route voluntarily, even after learning of the risks.
The attached report outlines and gives examples of cases CLEC worked on in the past year that represent four of the largest types of labor migration currently trending in Cambodia: the continuing exploitation of domestic workers abroad; irregular and undocumented migration through brokers; forced marriages in China; and migration for the purposes of illegal fishing.
Although not exhaustive of all migratory patterns in Cambodia, through this methodology we were able to draw conclusions from several diverse aspects of migration, illustrating the strong causal link between the domestic labor market and the susceptibility of Cambodians to human trafficking.
* Sixteen vendors repatriated:
Sixteen Cambodian market vendors were released and repatriated yesterday, six days after they were initially imprisoned in a Thai jail.
The workers were arrested on Thursday after allegedly being caught smuggling counterfeit clothing over the Poipet border for sale at the nearby Rong Kluea market in Sa Kaeo province.
The workers’ release followed a mass vendor protest over the weekend that shut down the border crossing and resulted in negotiations between worker representatives and government officials from both countries.
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* BetterFactories Media Updates 18-19 August 2014, More Factories Hit by Faintings; 1 Forced to Shut:
* To read in the printed edition of the Cambodia Daily:
* BetterFactories Media Updates Overview here.
23:03:18 local time BANGLADESH
* Accept the Demands of the Tuba Garment Workers:
translation: “Accept the Demands of the Workers: Garment Workers Unity Forum”
* Bangladesh: Employers, Workers Resolve Issues Together:
When 1,300 Bangladeshi garment workers started to organize a trade union at their factory in the Gazipur suburb of Dhaka, the capital, they faced an uphill battle.
However, with assistance from their union federation, the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Federation (BIGUF) and the Solidarity Center, and by working to develop a constructive relationship with their employer, Masco Cotton, both sides have been able to sit down and negotiate and resolve issues in the factory. And the dynamics have changed.
“I am very happy that we have established a good relationship with our employer, but it hasn’t been a smooth path,” said Faruk, president of the Masco Cotton Ltd. Workers Union.
“At first, I was suspended along with three other workers for trade union activity, and it was two and a half months before we were reinstated.”
Faruk continued, “It took a lot of hard work for us to make the employer understand our problems. The training we received from BIGUF helped a lot. They trained us how to talk to and negotiate with the management.”
Sanjida Akhter, worker and president of Masco Industries Ltd. Workers Unity Union (one of the three union factories affiliated with BIGUF in the five-factory group) said, “Before we formed a union in our factory, (the workers) had no way to communicate with our employer.
But now things are different. Management will even approach the union to work out and discuss issues in the factory.”
* Less than 2% garment factories are risky in Bangladesh: Tofail:
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed on Monday said the number of risky garment factories is much lower in Bangladesh than in other countries.
According of the minister, less than 2.0 percent of the country’s total garment factories are risky when the rate is higher in many other countries.
The minister was addressing the certificate giving ceremony of the three-day workshop of Economic Reporters’ Forum (ERF) held at the Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB). ERF in association with the PIB organized the workshop for its members.
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* Conspiracy against garment sector must fail: Tofail:
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed yesterday urged the owners and workers of garment industries to work together to achieve the export target for fiscal 2014-15.
The minister said some quarters have been trying to defame Bangladesh’s garment sector but they will not be successful and the country will be able to reach the export target.
Ahmed’s comments came at the concluding session of a three-day training workshop for business reporters at the Press Institute of Bangladesh. PIB and Economic Reporters’ Forum coorganised the event.
“Despite the political turmoil, Bangladesh achieved its export target last fiscal year. This year’s target will also be met.”
The government has set an export target of $33.2 billion for fiscal 2014-15, up 10.02 percent from last fiscal year. Exports grew 11.65 percent year-on-year to $30.18 billion in 2013-14.
Bangladesh is the second largest garment exporter after China in the world and some quarters in the country do not feel good to see the growth of the sector, Ahmed said.
Ahmed singled out IndustriALL Bangladesh, some worker leaders and a section of experts for hatching conspiracy against the garment sector.
“They (conspirators) tried to use the Tuba issue, but failed,” he said.
On the possibility of regaining the GSP benefits from the US, he said no country enjoys it currently. If the US reintroduces GSP, Bangladesh has no reason to miss it as the country has fulfilled almost all of conditions set by the Obama administration. Some conditions will be addressed soon, he said.
Accord, a forum of Europe-based buyers and Alliance, formed by America-based brands, have so far inspected 2,000 factories in Bangladesh and found only 19 or less than 2 percent vulnerable.
* BD’s export growth in US market 18% last FY: Tofail:
Commerce Minister Tofail Ahmed said the country’s export growth was 18 per cent in US market last fiscal year (FY), 2013-14, despite suspension of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) facility for a long time.
He was speaking at the concluding ceremony of the Training Programme for Economic Journalists at the Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB) in the city Monday.
The three-day training programme was jointly organised by PIB and Economic Reporters’ Forum (ERF).
The minister said there has been no GSP facility from the US to any country since last November due to the expiry of the timeframe.
He said the future of the five factories of Tuba group depends on its owner. If he wants to run his factories, they could go for production.
* Jute Packaging Act still at low threshold:
More subsidiaries are needed to mobilise the sector as the demands for jute products are on the rise nationally and internationally
Despite the fact that the demand for jute products in both national and international markets gains momentum, the Mandatory Jute Packaging Act 2010 is yet to be implemented properly even four years after the act came into being, discussants said yesterday at a roundtable in the city.
They observed that the implementation of the act is not up to the mark to make the industry viable.
The observation came at a roundtable discussion jointly organised by the Jute Protection Committee and ActionAid at the National Press Club in the city.
The stakeholders and businessmen who attended the programme called into question the poor implementation procedure which is a bar to the sustainability of jute industry.
* Female RMG worker stabbed dead in Ctg :
A female worker of a readymade garment (RMG) factory was stabbed to death by some miscreants near TPB Bhaban area in Chittagong Export Processing Zone (CEPZ) in the city on Sunday night.
The deceased was identified as Monzila Akhtar, 23, daughter of Fazlul Haque Sharif of Mothbaria upazila in Pirojpur.
Abul Mansoor, officer-in-charge of EPZ police station, said Monzila was stabbed by one Ismail after they had an altercation over a financial matter in the area around 8pm.
Monzila was rushed to Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH) where she succumbed to her injuries early Monday morning.
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22:33:18 local time INDIA
* Plea to disburse wages quickly:
Expressing concern over the non-disbursal of wages to workers employed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in the district for almost two months, the members of National Federation of Indian Women sought the intervention of the district administration to resolve the issue.
The federation said that the issuance of certificates to get various social security schemes were being delayed in the district. The federation district secretary M. Nadia said that non-disbursal of the wages under the MGNREGS had affected the rural households as many women were solely dependent on the income to run the families.
“We are also of the view that the wages should be increased to at least Rs. 300 a day in the wake of the rising living costs, and the minimum number of working days be increased to 200 a year,” she added.
* Textile MSMEs in North and South India spur sector growth:
CRISIL has studied the growth performance of 774 micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) rated by it in the textile sector.
Their performance was analysed for the three-year period 2010-11 to 2012-13 (refers to the financial year, April 1 to March 31).
The study indicates that the average sales of the sampled enterprises grew at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 per cent, from Rs 1,271.89 lakh to Rs 1,809.81 lakh over the three-year analysis period. MSMEs in northern and southern India outpaced their peers in eastern and western India in sales growth, with a CAGR of 21 per cent.
* ‘Despite curbs, China will still import cotton’:
Domestic cotton prices to rule stable, says Cotton Corpn chief
Cotton prices in India are ruli higher than global prices, putting immense pressure on spinning mills.
The divergent price movement has surprised many, as India is one of the largest cotton producers.
Textile companies have demanded that the state-owned Cotton Corporation of India buy cotton during the start of the season and offload it when prices go up sharply. However, BK Mishra, Chairman and Managing Director, CCI, does not foresee the Corporation playing any role in stabilising prices. Edited excerpts:
read more in the interview.
* Work begins on Padalur textile park:
Preliminary works connected with the establishment of a textile park at Padalur in the district has commenced.
The initial works were carried out through SIPCOT, Textile and Handlooms department, Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board, Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation, District Rural Development Agency and other departments. The textile park would come up on 40.35 hectares of land identified in Padalur and Irur villages along the Tiruchi–Chennai national highway.
Harmander Singh, Principal Secretary, Handlooms and Textiles Department, on Monday inspected the proposed park.
Collector Darez Ahamed and Perambalur MP R.P. Marutharajaa, and local body representatives accompanied him, an official press release here said.
22:03:18 local time PAKISTAN
* The damned dressmakers:
Karachi’s Banaras town has the biggest cottage industry of bridal couture – the flamboyant South Asian traditional wears that are worth a fortune.
But the craftsmen, who specialise in this traditional art, survive on wages less than the minimum set for unskilled labourers.
A sprawling neighbourhood that buzzes with the constant hum of weaving machines, the houses in Banaras town are mostly two-storied half-built structures, with a ‘factory’ on the ground floor, a dyeing department on the first floor and the families (read: workers) living on the roof top.
The dressmakers here had learned the exquisite artistry of rich Banarasi saris and suits from their ancestors, who, during the partition, migrated from the Indian city of Varanasi – the hotbed of silk weaving in South Asia.
An average factory or ‘karkhana’ in Banaras town has 80 to 120 yards of space, where families, including women and children, work for ten to twelve hours every day. “I learnt this work from my forefathers, however, I have put my son in a fertiliser factory, as this job doesn’t pay well,” says Muhammad Hameed.
Hameed slogs for hours in a dimly-lit room installed with four machines and two hand looms, but like others in the neighbourhood, he is not paid on a monthly basis. Although their workplace is called a factory, it lacks the legal definition of a factory hence does not come under the Factories Act 1934 of Pakistan. The workers are paid per job.
Exploited to the hilt
Labour right activists say that the non-recognition of this sector by the government is one of the reasons behind the absence of proper factories producing Banarasi fabrics in Karachi.
The industry is run by a loosely-knit cluster of home-based workers, who sell their produce to a network of middlemen.
The workers often work behind schedule because of the demand of their skill, yet continue to live in penury. In most cases, the families – men, women and children – work together to finish a task to make their ends meet.
* Aptma rejects PTI’s announcement:
All Pakistan Textile Mills Association (APTMA) here Monday rejected Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) call for civil disobedience in the national interest.
The APTMA Central Chairman Yasin Siddik stated that export-oriented textile industry cannot afford uncertainty and staled situation anymore, as it is becoming difficult for the textile industry to meet international commitments due to hinderances in the timely shipmentsand there is a strong chance that future orders can be placed to other countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh etc.
Siddik said that prevailing uncertainty is affecting the textile exports by $38 million per day.
“We are businessmen and we cannot afford to go into civil disobedienceand cannot defy the laws of the land.
All we stand for a stable and peaceful working business environment so that we may fulfill our obligations to our country and clients,” he added.
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