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Anti-union action 'increases'

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Garment workers protest outside a factory in the Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh during a nationwide strike last September.

Anti-union repression has increased across the Asia Pacific, and Cambodia is no exception to the trend, an international trade union said in a report released yesterday.

In its 2011 survey of trade union rights violations in 143 countries, the International Trade Union Confederation recounted the murders of 90 trade union activists, 49 of which occurred in Colombia, 75 recorded death threats, 2,500 arrests and at least 5,000 “sackings of unionists because of union activities” among other abuses over the course of last year.

“Employers and leaders in the Asia-Pacific region have once again chosen violence and the repression of trade union demands for social dialogue,” the report said.

In Cambodia, ITCU singled out dismissals of workers for participating in strikes, the use of temporary contracts and the establishment of “yellow” pro-employer unions as actions that violated or undermined workers’ rights in the Kingdom last year.

“Anti-union practices and obstacles to organising remain widespread. Collective bargaining is rare and difficult. Cambodia has still not established labour courts and impunity continues to be the rule when it comes to trade union rights violations,” the report states.

The Brussels-based organisation also denounced the suspension and dismissal of hundreds of workers who took part in nationwide protests that shook the garment industry in September.

The ITUC said a number of restrictions limited the effectiveness of existing legal protections, such as the exclusion of civil servants and domestic workers from the Labour Law, which recognises the right to organise and form unions.

Ken Loo, Secretary General of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, dismissed the report yesterday, saying he was “amused”.

“If there was really so much anti-union discrimination in Cambodia there wouldn’t be that many trade unions around,” he said. “Basically, I think the Cambodian labour law is one of the most liberal when it comes to freedom of association, because it does not even have a minimum number with regards to the number of workers required to form a union,” Loo said.

“I don’t think you can find any other country with a law that’s more liberal.”

Loo said concerns about “yellow” unions were based on a false premise.

“The simple assumption is that this union never strikes so therefore they are a yellow union; the other union conducts strikes very often, so they are independent,” he said.

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, declined to comment yesterday, while other officials could not be reached.

The Ministry of Labour introduced a new draft labour law earlier this year, but a number of unions and other civil society groups have called for its overhaul, saying the legislation would squeeze the labour movement by giving too much authority to the state over the registration, suspension and dissolution of unions.

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