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Arbitration’s cost and value

Garment workers hold placards as burning tyres block part of a road during a protest in front of their Phnom Penh factory
Garment workers hold placards as burning tyres block part of a road during a protest in front of their Phnom Penh factory in December last year. Pha Lina

Arbitration’s cost and value

The Arbitration Council Foundation, credited with helping resolve about 1,700 industrial disputes, has reached verbal agreement with a Swedish aid agency to receive funding until the end of 2016, a spokesman said yesterday.

But members of the labour-dispute resolution body desire a more permanent solution that will enable it to keep providing arbitration across a number of industries, including the garment sector.

Earlier this month, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) agreed to provide the council with $1.2 million from this October until December 2016. The funds will begin filling Arbitration Council coffers just after major contributions from the World Bank – a key donor since 2009 – end in September.

“Our concern is [finding] a sort of long-term direct funding,” said Sor Sontheary, a communication manager for the council. “After SIDA, who is going to fund us?”

SIDA did not answer calls to its Stockholm headquarters or reply to an email before press time.

In a press conference scheduled for this morning and at a forum with key government policy makers and development partners later today, members of the Arbitration Council will spell out its importance to Cambodia’s labour landscape, Sontheary said.

“I think it’s very important to keep this body operating because it’s the only independent body that has gained credibility and trust among stakeholders,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center. “I also think the government should allocate some money . . . to this body.”

The council has requested the ministry provide $80,000 next year, Sontheary said. Ministry officials verbally agreed to contribute but did not specify a figure.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

The business community has seemed agreeable with the council’s call for factories and unions to pay into the service, Sontheary said.

But Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said he would not pay until problems with the council’s system are fixed.

Some arbiters lack neutrality and the process often takes about two months, Thorn said. However, according to Sontheary, 80 per cent of cases are settled within 20 working days.

“We need to restructure the process of negotiation,” Thorn said.

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