In a strongly worded defence of the proposed trade union law, employer association CAMFEBA released a position paper yesterday claiming the law would curb instances of illegal strikes and a proliferation of minority unions, which it says is needed to harmonise the country’s troubled industrial relations.
With an average of seven registered unions per factory, across more than 600 garment and footwear exporters, the Cambodia Federation of Employers and Business Associations, or CAMFEBA, said the multiplicity of unions impedes consensus-building and restrictions are necessary on the number of people needed to form a union.
However, independent unions claim that many of these unions are employer-sponsored and work only for the benefit of factory owners.
Sandra D’Amico, vice president of CAMFEBA, said the paper was an attempt to clarify the position of employers on the proposed law.
“Important for employers is having a law, and a union movement with which we can communicate and negotiate,” she said.
With a large section of the paper dedicated to addressing issues relating to minority unions holding up the factory floor, DAmico said a two-tier system for large and medium-sized enterprises could help address the problem.
Citing Labour Ministry and Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia data, the report says there are over 3,000 labour unions in Cambodia, 90 per cent of them representing garment workers.
The government announced several revisions to the law on July 28, such as reducing the number of workers required to form a union from 20 per cent of a factory’s workforce to 10 people.
“With large enterprises, we feel it should be the percentage, and for small enterprises it should be a number of people so we have a voice to speak to,” D’Amico said.
D’Amico said that while unions have claimed in the past that employers themselves have encouraged the formation of rival unions for their own benefit, there was little evidence to support it.
But William Conklin, country director at the AFL-CIOs Solidarity Center, said Cambodia's factories were rife with company-sponsored unions, otherwise known as yellow unions.
“Employers try to create yellow unions in the workplace because they don’t like the [independent] unions there,” Conklin said.
“Hypothetically, yes the law would help reduce the number of unions but the law will be deployed not against employers unions but against independent unions.”
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, agreed, saying that even when only one independent union existed in a factory, management rarely cooperated.
“They want to put the unions under control of the employer,” he said.
Thorn said the process of drafting the union law was far from inclusive, with no copy having been shown in full by the government.
The latest consultation meeting, he said, was little more than a “presentation” of government revisions to the law.
Thorn added that some of the revisions would still harm unions, such as one requiring a more than 50 per cent majority of workers to approve any strike, but said he had still not seen a draft in its entirety.
“If we don’t have any final draft, how can we comment on the trade union law?” he said.
Discussed for years, the contentious law is near completion and slated to be passed at the end of this year.