Khmer Times/Jonathan Cox Wednesday, 20 January 2016 2489 views

Labor Representatives Blast New Union Law

The leaders of some of the country’s largest unions released a statement yesterday critiquing the government’s latest draft of the controversial union law. As the new law draws closer to a vote in the National Assembly, the unions are making a last-ditch effort to change sections that they say could hurt labor rights in the country.

A committee composed of members of both the Cambodian People’s Party and the Cambodia National Rescue Party was formed earlier this month to revise the union law, but it left many controversial parts of the law unchanged. 

The unions criticized the government’s failure to include the changes they suggested. “The meetings have produced unsatisfactory results in response to the union’s proposals,” they said. “The committee has ignored the unions’ key proposals.”

The draft union law released by the committee called for an independent labor court to handle disputes – something the unions have asked for – but it also raised the minimum age of union leaders to 25, and imposed a minimum size limit of 10 people in a union.

The most contentious part of the latest draft is a requirement for unions to get approval from a quorum (50 percent plus one) of their members in order to strike. Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Organization, said this requirement is overly restrictive. 

“The government is stopping the freedom of assembly,” he said, “such as the big gatherings of workers.” He added that it would be difficult for large unions to vote on a strike without disrupting work at their factory.

Some union leaders called the law a violation of international labor conventions. “The requirement of a quorum to go on strike is against the ILO [International Labor Organization] convention,” said Yang Sophorn, acting president of the Cambodian Confederation Unions. “It’s a violation of statute for the government to set a law governing how the unions can go on strike.”

She added that employers had undue influence during the drafting of the law, while many of the unions’ requests went ignored. 

“If you look at the background, this law was proposed by the employers, and it was the real intention of the employers to limit the rights and activities of the trade unions,” she said.

William Conklin, the director of the Solidarity Center, said that while some of the unions’ requested changes to the law have been adopted, the law will still weaken labor representation. 

“We’ve gone from a beheading to death by a thousand cuts,” he said. 

Son Chhay, the leader of the CNRP representatives in the government committee, was also critical of the changes to the draft law. 

“It’s quite ridiculous for the government to leave these requirements [such as the strike restrictions] unchanged,” he said.

The law is not set in stone just yet, though. The government is planning a workshop that would allow the unions to suggest more changes to the law before it goes to the permanent committee for final revisions. 

While Mr. Chhay said the workshop is a step in the right direction, he added that past workshops have not given the unions enough room to speak. 

“In most workshops people have been allowed two minutes to make suggestions, and these suggestions aren’t taken into consideration,” he said. 

“We need to have a whole-day workshop that is more open to suggestions.” 

Meanwhile, the unions are continuing to lobby for changes to the law. “We will make an effort to lobby the government agencies, and we will try to engage in more dialogue with top leaders of the state,” said Chuon Mom Thol, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions. 

“If there are no changes, then the last option is to go on strike.”



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