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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Huge changes’ made to new draft union law

‘Huge changes’ made to new draft union law

A new draft of the trade-union law included “huge changes” that removed all major controversial aspects of the legislation, including criminal sanctions, a union advocate said yesterday.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said the Ministry of Labour was to be commended for heeding criticisms of a law that started off as what could have been “the most draconian trade union law in the region”.

“But they’ve dropped everything that was of concern, and they’ve expanded the scope of it to include informal-sector workers and domestic workers.

“All criminal sanctions against trade-union leaders have been dropped, and it will be much easier to form a trade union,” Welsh said.

This meant farmers, garbage collectors and nannies would now have the right to unionise, he added.

This latest version, the fifth draft of the law, was being reviewed in the Council of Ministers, Welsh said.

Unions and civil-society groups heavily criticised provisions in the previous draft, including articles that allowed union representatives to be sent to prison for as long as three months and fined as much as 10 million riel if they were found to have forced workers to join unions.

Mouen Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Centre, said he had yet to see the latest draft but said the previous version allowed worrying penalties to be taken against unions that failed to submit things like financial reports on time.    

“In the previous draft, there was still the article about suspension of the union certificate and the cancellation of the union certificate if it failed to fulfil its obligations,” he said, adding that this contravened International Labour Organisation conventions that Cambodia had ratified.

US embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh told the Post earlier this week that during a visit last month, US Special Representative for International Labor Affairs Barbara Shailor had urged Cambodia to abide by its commitments to the ILO during the drafting of the trade union law.

Cambodia has ratified 12 ILO conventions including number 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. The International Labour Organisation was unable to respond to inquiries by press time.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, declined to comment.

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