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Committee wraps up trade union law talks

Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay talks at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh yesterday during a meeting with the CPP about the draft trade union law.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay talks at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh yesterday during a meeting with the CPP about the draft trade union law. Heng Chivoan

Committee wraps up trade union law talks

The bipartisan committee tasked with examining the Kingdom’s controversial draft trade union law wrapped up its activities yesterday, ultimately making few of the substantive changes that unions demanded.

Two main changes were agreed to during yesterday’s meet, which was held at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh.

In a move condemned by unions, whose concerns it was created to address, the committee raised the minimum required age for union leaders from 18 to 25, as prescribed by the Kingdom’s Labour Law.

The committee also agreed to specify that the “courts” mentioned in the draft union law would be specialised “labour courts”, theoretically ensuring the creation of a long-promised court system dealing specifically with labour issues that has yet to be set up.

Although upping the age requirement was one of the seven recommendations made to the committee by a business coalition on Monday, Sok Eysan, Cambodian People’s Party spokesman and chief of the CPP’s wing of the committee, maintained that employers’ concerns had not been discussed yesterday.

However, he allowed, “There are some articles which were not raised by the unions, and we also made sure to discuss them.”

The Labour Ministry, he added, would “explain” the “other problems” raised by unions at a later date.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, slammed the increased age threshold as a blow to freedom of association and questioned whether the committee had fulfilled its original purpose.

“Overall, the committee was created to [address our concerns] to the National Assembly, but there have been no changes . . . because the points we wanted changed for the better were not discussed or changed yet,” he said.

Major sticking points for unions include a clause requiring them to obtain a 50 per cent plus one member quorum of their members to go on strike.

The revamped law will now be sent to the National Assembly’s sixth commission on law and justice.

Son Chhay, head of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s wing of the committee, acknowledged that not all the unions’ requests had been addressed.

He said, however, that he had successfully urged for a “huge workshop” with relevant stakeholders to be held before the law is sent to parliament’s permanent committee – the final step before it is sent to the floor, where a ruling party majority virtually ensures its passage.

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