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Activists call for delay of controversial union law

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, holds a petition against the draft trade union law yesterday in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, holds a petition against the draft trade union law yesterday in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Activists call for delay of controversial union law

A group of more than 20 union leaders filed a petition in front of the National Assembly yesterday demanding a delay in the passage of the draft trade union law, while yet again requesting a full copy of the controversial legislation.

The draft law, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday, is set to be presented to parliament this week, where it is expected to easily pass thanks to the majority enjoyed by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the law would restrict the right of workers to form unions and protest.

“If this draft union law is approved without considering some of the points we suggested, I expect there will not be an independent union movement anymore, giving a chance for employers to abuse rights, steal benefits and cheat workers,” he said.

Although some of the more controversial provisions of the law were dialled down in July, other contentious sections remain, such as new financial reporting requirements and the mandating of a 50 per cent-plus-one vote by membership before a union can legally strike.

Moreover, unions have unsuccessfully demanded that the latest copy of the law be provided in full, fuelling concerns that parts of it further restrict union activity.

“If they refuse to send the latest draft union law to us before approval, we will hold a big protest prior to that, so that we can avoid arrest or detainment” that may occur under the new law, Thorn said.

Employers have their own complaints about the law, with some saying it does not address the issue of multiple unions jostling for power on the same shop floor. One provision of the law stipulates that a minimum of 10 workers are required to create a union, a number the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia found too low.

“It will not be able to address the industrial relations problems faced by the private sector,” a GMAC statement from last Thursday reads.

However, a press statement from the Council of Ministers last week said the law would stabilise labour relations and attract new investors.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said any arguments about the law would be addressed while it was being debated at the National Assembly, although he did not know the exact day it would be presented.

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