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Garment workers fill the street during a protest in front of the Ministry of Labour in December.
Garment workers fill the street during a protest in front of the Ministry of Labour in December. Heng Chivoan

ILO convention still debated

The government has no intention of withdrawing its signature from the International Labour Organization’s freedom of association convention, despite calls for it to reconsider its position, a Ministry of Labour spokesman said yesterday.

“I don’t think we will withdraw. The prime minister [Hun Sen] has already said he will commit to freedom of association,” said the ministry’s Heng Sour. “To my understanding, the government has no intention to [withdraw].”

At the Government-Private Sector Forum on Tuesday, Nang Sothy, from the forum’s industrial relations group, called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to consider whether the ILO’s convention 87 was benefiting Cambodia, in the wake of union-led garment strikes in January in which security forces shot dead at least four workers and factories lost millions of dollars.

“The government should reconsider about continuing to be a signatory of the convention 87 and whether it benefits [Cambodia],” Sothy said.

Sandra D’Amico, vice-president of the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA), which is part of the industrial relations working group, said yesterday that the call was not aimed at limiting the right to unionise.

“It’s really important to point out that a number of countries including the US have not ratified this convention,” she said.

“Employers are challenging the government … to make sure we get benefit from our ratification.”

In January, CAMFEBA began taking out paid advertisements in newspapers saying that convention 87 did not guarantee the right to strike, a claim an ILO labour law expert later rejected in an email to the Post.

D’Amico said yesterday that the business community was not trying to be hostile towards unions and that, in fact, suspending the right to freedom of association would be “devastating”.

“We’re in the middle of diversifying the economy, and there’s absolutely no way that we would want to go down that route.”

If Cambodia did decide to withdraw its signature from convention 87, it would be in for a “complex” process, said Maurizio Bussi of the ILO’s decent work team. “Obviously, this is something that could not be done overnight,” he said.

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