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Call for action in old disputes

Call for action in old disputes

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Ath Thorn, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, speaks to reporters yesterday at the Labour Ministry in Phnom Penh.

Outspoken union leader Ath Thorn said yesterday that the government had failed to take action in numerous long-standing labour disputes, but that officials at the Ministry of Labour “promised” to make progress on the issues.

The Cambodian Labour Confederation president said that Seng Sakada, director general of the labour department at the ministry, had “promised” during a meeting yesterday to seek resolution for a number of incidents on a “case-by-case” basis.

Ath Thorn described the meeting as “positive”, but said he would wait to see action from the government.

“We do not believe the promise 100 percent, but we hope that the ministry will help to solve the issues related to workers,” he said at an impromptu press conference after the meeting.

“If the ministry and the other unions do not solve these problems, those companies will violate the rights of workers more and more.”

The labour leader claimed in a letter sent yesterday to Labour Minister Vong Soth that anti-union activity was a “serious” concern, in part because of collusion between officials and employers.

Men Socheat, cabinet director for Vong Soth, dismissed the allegations of corruption yesterday and claimed that the ministry had helped to resolve “countless” disputes between workers and employers.

“It cannot be corruption at the department. If there is an irregular case, we will examine it immediately,” he said, referring other questions to Seng Sakada, who could not be reached for comment.

Ath Thorn said in the letter that a number of unions had been shut down “because they were badgered through threats, discrimination and firings”.

He said he highlighted two cases at the meeting that have been brought to the attention of the International Labour Organisation, which has submitted recommendations on the issues to the government.

One case dates back to 2005 and involves allegations against the Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap, the Japan-APSARA Safeguarding Angkor Authority and the Angkor Golf Resort.

The organisations are accused of unfairly dismissing workers, refusing to negotiate with a trade union and committing acts of anti-union discrimination, according to a March ILO report.

The report concluded that in 2006, APSARA, “apparently after having ignored repeated requests from the union for negotiations, issued a statement demanding that its employees renounce membership in the union concerned, should they wish to retain their employment”, and a day later dismissed 14 union leaders. The other two companies face similar accusations.

The latest information provided by the government, the report stated, was that it had referred related cases to the Arbitration Council in December 2009 and January 2010.

The ILO also made recommendations regarding a case in which Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino was found responsible for dismissing 14 trade union leaders who were “forced to sign severance agreements under duress” following inconclusive salary negotiations in 2009.

The Arbitration Council ordered that four of the union leaders be reinstated, but the company lodged an appeal in February last year.

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