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A striking garment worker holds a placard behind barbed wire on Russian Boulevard in Phnom Penh during a demonstration in December demanding a high wage
A striking garment worker holds a placard behind barbed wire on Russian Boulevard in Phnom Penh during a demonstration in December demanding a high wage. Vireak Mai

Industrial relations and rights

Dear Editor,

Comments made by Tim De Meyer, ILO Specialist regarding Convention 87 (C87) and Right to Strike, do not represent tripartite consensus within the ILO.

The suggestion by the Post that CAMFEBA and GMAC do not respect the right to strike is not representative of employer’s views. Employers respect that striking is a means of industrial action.

However, this does not mean such action is a fundamental right. Employers expect that any strike action must be conducted in line with the law.

Cambodian delegates comprising of CAMFEBA, unions and government were all represented at the 2013 International Labour Conference where the ILO Committee of Application of Standards (CAS) deliberated on the Right to Strike and C87.

The CAS is a supervisory body and oversees complaints against governments. The 2013 meeting outcome is clear: “All cases which have a challenge related to right to strike and C87 will carry the following statement moving forward: “The Committee did not address the right to strike in this case as the employers do not agree that there is a right to strike recognized in C87.”

This statement makes two points clear which have not been transparent before. First, there is no agreement in CAS that C87 recognises a right to strike. Secondly, because of consensus absence, CAS recognises that it is not in a position to make requests to governments to change their laws and practice regarding the right to strike.

Accordingly, the claim by de Meyer that there is consensus within ILO tripartite constituency is simply not true!

The issue of strikes is a sensitive one and requires that journalists engage in high-standard investigative reporting. Legislative history is clear: the proposed C87 relates only to freedom of association (FoA) and not to the right to strike.

ILO interpretation states “Strikes of a purely political nature and strikes decided systematically long before negotiations take place do not fall within the scope of the principles of FoA.”

Also, “the solution to legal conflict as a result of difference in interpretation should be left to competent courts. The prohibition of strikes in such a situation does not constitute a breach of FoA”.

Strikes are consistently referred to “as a means of action, of achieving …” A means does not imply a fundamental right; it implies a tool available to workers and unions.

Under Cambodian law, we are all (employers and workers) provided a guaranteed right to use industrial action tools. The use of such tools must be in line with the law and follow due process.

Penalties apply otherwise. Specifically it is not a right to create chaos, anarchy and use violence. The ILO position on violence is clear: Violence, intimidation and damage to property are not legitimate means of industrial action.

Employers respect the rights of both employers and workers to use the means available to pursue industrial action as long as such use is within the law.

We respect the role and responsibility of government to govern, to ensure constructive industrial relations and to ensure peace and public order.

Cambodia law is clear. Article 330 states “A strike must be peaceful. Committing violent acts during a strike is considered to be serious misconduct that could be punished, including work suspension or disciplinary lay-off”.

Article 331 provides “Freedom of work for non-strikers shall be protected against all forms of coercion or threat”. Employers are “held hostage” when we protect those rights of non-striking workers, investment, property.

There is no recognition of violent acts of unions, which were the cornerstone of the violence that transpired in January. Employer’s rights need to be respected too.

Respect for the rights of workers cannot extend to the violent behaviours that started within the union movement which resulted in the loss of innocent lives, disabled-injured public security personnel, damaged-destroyed public and private property and injured many innocent people.

This is not dignified human rights protection.

There is a great need for the press and international bodies to better understand the challenges and realities of what transpired and for unions to “clean-up” and make a stand against violence within their movement and to follow the law.

We all have a lot to learn. Employers continue to seek a unified, representative, constructive, union movement. Employers don’t promote aggression or hostility.

Everyone needs to be responsible and accountable for their actions and play a constructive role in any discussions at hand.

Everyone has a role to play to help build a prosperous Cambodia.

Vice-president,
CAMFEBA

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