Changes being proposed to Cambodia's labour law that would allow for unlimited temporary work contracts have been criticised by the global union representing workers in the textile and clothing sector.

The changes would mean temporary contracts could be extended indefinitely, replacing the current maximum of two years.

But Neil Kearney, general secretary of the Brussels-based International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF), says the use of temporary contracts in Cambodia "has had a very negative impact on worker rights in our sector."

Not only do such contracts enable employers to get rid of trade union leaders by simply failing to renew their temporary contracts, but contracts of less than one year enable employers to avoid benefits such as maternity and sick leave.
The Ministry of Labor has responded to lobbying by the private sector by drafting proposed amendments to existing rules.

And already "a number of garment manufacturers have reportedly already began switching from permanent to temporary contracts," Kearney warns.

The ITGLWF is calling on brands participating in the Better Factories Programme to insist their suppliers refrain from short-term employment contracts - and is also considering a formal complaint to the International Labour Organisation.

The union also argues the changes would make Cambodia less competitive from an ethical viewpoint, since brands and retailers who are forced to cut back their orders are giving priority to suppliers that perform the best on both production criteria and social compliance.