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Union leader Ath Thorn delivers a petition opposing the draft union law to the Council of Ministers late last month.
Union leader Ath Thorn delivers a petition opposing the draft union law to the Council of Ministers late last month.

Protest to greet union law vote

As the National Assembly finally comes face to face with the draft union law today, it is unclear whether opposition lawmakers will vote against the contentious legislation. Independent trade unions, meanwhile, are planning a protest outside parliament.

CNRP lawmaker Mao Monivann said his opposition colleagues were unlikely to support the union law in its current form or to endorse the prime minister's cabinet reshuffle – also up for vote today – though each lawmaker was free to vote independently, he said.

“For the union law, we will advocate [our position] in parliament. If there are no changes that respond to and serve union workers interests, we will not support that legislation,” he said.

CNRP lawmaker Lim Kim Ya said at least 40 of the CNRP's 55 parliamentarians were expected to join today’s plenary session. However, the CNRP’s acting president Kem Sokha will remain in Thailand for a health check-up and Yem Ponhearith will be in France and not be back in time for the vote.

Kim Ya said that the party would not boycott the session, a strategy it has employed with other controversial legislation, notably the vote over the NGO law in July.

“We will join the National Assembly session to debate”, Kim Ya said.

Speaking yesterday, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Esyan again defended the union law.

“The CPP created the law to guarantee and defend workers’ and employers’ interests” said Eysan, adding that the cabinet reshuffle was intended to better serve Cambodians, not impress the opposition.

As parliamentarians debate the draft law, unions and workers plan to demonstrate outside the National Assembly and air their opposition to controversial articles in the draft they say will encroach on their right to association.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said about 200 to 300 union workers will protest outside the National Assembly in the hope that parliamentarians will take into account their suggestions for changes to the law.

“We are not anti-government, and we only hope the lawmakers will consider our suggestions and improve this law” he said.

In a story published on Friday, the Post revealed the contents of a leaked letter from the International Labour Organization custodians of global labour conventions to the government, detailing their concerns with the proposed draft, albeit in a very cautious manner.

While the letter sent to Labour Minister Ith Samheng on March 10 said the scope of the law discriminatory criteria for union leader finding and requirements for a majority vote before going on strike violated local laws and ILO conventions, it suggested only a review or clarification, not concrete changes.

Independent unions and worker rights groups said that despite picking out the contentious articles in the law, the UN body’s carefully worded letter was another example of the ILO’s failure to successfully lobby the government to change the law.

“The ILO should push the government to amend the union law. By only just sending the letter, it does nothing to help us,” said Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.

Additional reporting by Pech Sotheary



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