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Unions seek changes to labour law

Garment workers protest for better wages and benefits outside M&V International Manufacturing in September 2010.

Union leaders are calling for 10 changes to be made to the draft law that will regulate them, including allowing civil servants to form unions, they said yesterday, following a letter calling for two ministers to intervene late last week.

The Cambodian Trade Union Coordination Council wrote to Ith Sam Heng, minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, as well as Vong Soth, minister of Labour and Vocational Training, asking them to make the changes to the legislation, now under review by the Council of Ministers.

The letter listed 10 changes they wanted, beginning with allowing civil servants, including teachers, the right to form unions. They also called for a reduction in the cost unions would have to pay if they were hit by fines for wrongdoing, from the current one million to six million riel, to 10,000 to 500,000 riel.

“We hope that draft will be not be used as a tool by officials to generate money from unions,” CTUCC vice-president Choun Momthol said. “We think a good law is not one that uses human error to make money,” he added.

During its lengthy and contentious drafting process, the legislation, now in its fifth version, has seen the jettisoning of articles allowing criminal sanctions against trade union leaders and the expansion of the right to unionise to include domestic workers. The government has, however, baulked at calls to allow civil servants to form unions, but has said it is open to further discussion on the legislation.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said yesterday that two articles in the draft law, 45 and 66, remained worrisome. “These articles reduce workers’ rights and make it difficult for them to strike,” he said.

He said Article 45 did not require companies to compensate workers found fired without cause, while Article 66 allows companies to have striking workers temporarily detained if they prevent other workers from accessing the factory. Rong Chhun said this article could allow employers to use it to call on police to crack down on peaceful strikes.

The two articles should be deleted, he said, adding that they were in violation of International Labour Organisation conventions 87 and 98, which Cambodia is a signatory to.

Rong Chhun also called for the draft law to be changed to allow a confederation of unions to be formed with fewer than the eight now required, saying two should be enough.   

Ministers Ith Sam Heng and Vong Soth could not be reached for comment yesterday.



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