The US embassy has expressed appreciation of efforts by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training in handling complicated labour issues which have arisen in the wake of recent economic disruptions. In particular, the ministry has overseen worker protections and improvements in working conditions.
Labour minister Ith Sam Heng hosted US Ambassador Patrick Murphy on February 23 to discuss cooperating on the implementation of trade integration policies and international labour standards.
In a Facebook post following the meeting, Sam Heng said Murphy had praised the ministry’s efforts to enact measures for the protection of factory workers affected by lay-offs.
Murphy lauded the provision of benefits and cash support payments made to suspended factory workers, settlements reached in cases of firms owing employee seniority payments and interventions on behalf of uncompensated workers in instances of factory closures or management absconding.
Sam Heng thanked the US for recognising the Kingdom’s progress in ensuring labourers rights of freedom of association and achieving working conditions in line with international standards, which have been key stipulations by the US for continued provision of trade preferences.
He noted that the ministries of Labour and Commerce have been pushing for the expansion of the Better Factories Cambodia project to include travel goods and bags, following favourable evaluations of working conditions in the garment and footwear sector.
Ministry undersecretary of state Ngoy Rith said after the meeting that due to cooperation between the two countries, the growth in exports of garment products such as clothes, shoes, travel goods and bags had increased 23 per cent last year, amounting to more than $6 billion in value.
“These figures demonstrate progress by the Cambodian government since signing an agreement with the US to connect working conditions to international trade. The US continues to provide a big market for our garment and footwear industries,” he said.
Rith said Cambodia had recently received preferential tariffs on travel goods and bags, enabling the country to increase the number of such factories to 125 which will create more jobs by expanding export volume.
“Because we have done well, the US continues to support Cambodia by providing trade preferences and market access for our export products. We have much more work to accomplish together, and because we have worked well in partnership with the US, they have expressed appreciation for our efforts,” he said.
The two sides will continue to work on issues including labour trafficking, the elimination of child labour and protecting migrant workers. Additionally, they will work together to improve the capacities of labour inspections by government officials, according to Rith.
“Productive meeting today with labour minister Ith Sam Heng, we discussed the importance of enforcing laws that address exploitation and trafficking, and working together to advance freedom of association and other core labour values in Cambodia,” said Murphy.
US embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier said that for 20 years, the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia programme – with US and Cambodian government support – has helped reduce child labour and ensure good working conditions in garment factories.
“This programme has become a model for others worldwide, we applaud its successes and we look forward to its full expansion to Cambodia’s travel goods sector,” he said.
As labour rights are fundamental human rights, he added, the US and Cambodia share a mutual goal of reducing child and forced labour, including forms of modern-day slavery such as debt bondage.