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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kingdom ranked low in labour rights index

Authorities stand behind a barricade at Freedom Park during International Labour Day
Authorities stand behind a barricade at Freedom Park during International Labour Day last year after unions and activists were forbidden from gathering there for their annual demonstration. Sreng Meng Srun

Kingdom ranked low in labour rights index

Cambodia ranked among the worst places in the world for organised labour in this year’s International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Global Rights Index, landing in the category of countries with “no guarantee of rights”.

The rankings focused on freedom of association and the ability to collectively bargain in the 162 countries polled, said Jeffrey Vogt, an ITUC legal adviser. The data, which was released last week, were taken from April of 2014 to April of 2015.

Cambodia, in the ITUC’s index, earned the same score as Bangladesh and Qatar, among others.

“It’s not been a good year for Cambodia,” Vogt said in an interview yesterday. “For us, it seems like the government is not trying to create an environment where trade unions are able to exercise their rights.”

ITUC’s index ranks the countries with scores from 1 to 5+, with 1 indicating infrequent violations of union rights and 5+ signifying countries with no guarantee of rights due to a breakdown of rule of law.

A score of 5, which Cambodia and 26 other nations earned, signifies that a country has no guarantee of rights, but has a functioning system of law in place.

In its section on Cambodia, ITUC highlights a number of high-profile cases where the government and authorities either stopped peaceful protests, took legal action against unionists or ignored cases of employers disobeying the Kingdom’s Labour Law.

It notes a May 1, 2014, International Labour Day demonstration in Phnom Penh that turned violent when police and notoriously brutal Daun Penh district security guards were sent in to disperse a “thinning crowd”, the ITUC report says.

“Security guards were seen beating people over the head with batons at random,” the index reads. “One man was dragged off his motorbike and beaten by a crowd of district security guards.”

In addition to disturbances of peaceful demonstrations, Vogt yesterday said that the government’s seeming intention to go forward with a law on labour unions – which critics say would curtail independent unions’ ability to organise, among other issues – shows a lack of concern for workers’ rights.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center, yesterday agreed that rethinking the law would prove the government’s sincerity in protecting union rights.

“Revisions to the trade union law, or even scrapping the whole thing” is necessary, Preston said yesterday.

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