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Cambodian Confederation of Unions denied recognition again

The Cambodian Confederation of Unions has been shot down again in its bid for formal recognition as a trade union confederation, president Rong Chhun said yesterday, this time because some of its unions represent teachers.

The Ministry of Labour informed the CCU in a letter obtained by the Post yesterday that its application for recognition – which would have granted it more bargaining power – had been rejected, following a similarly unsuccessful application in 2006.

“After checking the document requesting the licence for [CCU], the Ministry of Labour and Vocational training has seen that . . . some of the members represented in this confederation union are not covered under the Labour Law,” the letter states.

CCU comprises seven unions and associations that represent more than 90,000 workers.

Its unions include the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association – whose members’ right to unionise is not protected under the Labour Law – the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students, and the Professors Council Association.

Rong Chhun, however, said he was seeking recognition only for the sake of four of its members that fell under the Ministry of Labour’s umbrella – the Free Trade Union, the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, a construction union and a garment union.

“The government has consistently refused to grant trade union status to groups representing civil servants,” he said.

Such refusals were discrimination against hundreds of thousands of civil servants, including doctors and nurses, and contravened an International Labour Organisation convention protecting the right to freedom of association, Rong Chhun said.

“It has also denied the right to collective bargaining to all civil servants in direct and clear violation of its commitments under the ILO conventions 87 and 98.”

Rong Chhun said the government was deliberately excluding the CCU – which has historically been linked to the opposition Sam Rainsy Party – from negotiating working conditions for its members.

“They are discriminating against me – it’s not the first time. They denied us this licence in 2006,” he said, adding that formal registration was important for non-government aligned unions because it increased bargaining power.

“A licence is good for negotiations with employers or for collective bargaining; it’s easy for us to be rejected otherwise,” he said, adding that “independent” unions face many challenges.

Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said the refusal had been issued “in large because [CCU] represents teachers who can’t unionise”, he said.

“It’s also for political reasons – the teachers’ association has historically been associated with the SRP.

“But it leads to another issue – Cambodia must be the only country in Southeast Asia that bans teachers from organising.”

Welsh said the CCU gaining formal recognition would give the confederation more security and legal protection.

“Their vulnerability, however, is in large part due to the government’s own violation of ILO conventions 87 – freedom of association – and 98.”

Tim De Meyer, an ILO labour standards specialist in Bangkok, said it would be “unwise” to speculate about the CCU’s case without filing a complaint.

“Over the past decade, however, the [ILO] has consistently raised with the government shortcomings in Cambodia’s legal framework in respect of the right to organise of civil servants, including teachers,” he said.

“In its most recent comment on the application of [convention] 87, the ILO Committee of Experts expressed the hope that these gaps in the law would be filled by the law on trade unions, a draft of which is currently under consideration by the Council of Ministers.”

The latest draft of the proposed law has been with the government since November.

Included in its pages is the right for informal workers – but not teachers or other civil servants – to collectively bargain.

“That solidifies the rights of construction sector workers, regardless of the seasonal nature of the work, tuk-tuk drivers and domestic servants,” Welsh told the Post last month.

Neither Seng Sakda, director-general of the Ministry of Labour, nor the ministry’s under-secretary of state, Sath Samuth, who signed the letter to the CCU, could be reached for comment yesterday.

Rong Chhun said the CCU intends to appeal the ruling and ask the ILO to intervene.

To contact the reporters on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com
Mom Kunthear at kunthear.mom@phnompenhpost.com

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