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Labour law delayed after protests

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, holds up a list of demanded changes to the draft trade union law yesterday in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh.
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, holds up a list of demanded changes to the draft trade union law yesterday in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Labour law delayed after protests

The government has agreed to delay the passage of a controversial law governing the trade union sector, announcing it would set up a national workshop to work out the legislation’s thornier clauses on December 15.

The decision comes after repeated protestations from a coalition of 23 union groups that gathered in front of the National Assembly again yesterday demanding changes to the law and a meeting on Monday with assembly President Heng Samrin.

Assembly spokesman Leng Benglong said the request would be sent to Samrin, and that two of the assembly’s commissions would meet today to discuss the law.

“The sixth commission [on law and justice] and the eighth commission [on labour] have checked and discussed this draft law and will meet with the Ministry of Labour [on Friday] for further discussions.”

Meanwhile, December’s national workshop would invite “all relevant parties”, he added.

Last month, the union coalition asked the government to delay the presentation of the union law to the National Assembly, claiming it would severely restrict independent union activity.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party majority in parliament would virtually guarantee passage of the law, which was set to be presented in mid-November. But the body has “not yet set the date to meet on the passage of the draft law”, Benglong said.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said yesterday that unions wanted several points of the law to be reconsidered, such as one requiring unions to submit financing details to the Ministry of Labour and another putting a minimum threshold of how many workers in a union are needed to go on strike.

“If they found our spending to be unusual, they would create an independent committee to audit our union, which I think really means that we are no longer independent but managed by the government instead.”

In July, the government addressed prior grievances against the trade union law, revising several of its key clauses. For example, the minimum threshold for a union to be created in a factory was lowered from 20 per cent of the shop floor to just 10 workers.

Employers were dismayed at the previous concessions, saying they would make it easier for superfluous unions to proliferate in factories.

Union leader Sina, however, said the current draft remained a danger to workers’ basic freedoms and threatened mass demonstrations if the unions’ points were not addressed.

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