An early draft of amendments to the Labour Law appears to expand the use of short-term contracts, a move criticised by labour activists and unionists, and one which directly contradicts recent recommendations made by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Under current regulations, factories are only allowed keep workers on short-term “fixed-duration contracts” (FDC) for up to two years. The short-term contracts have been criticised for undermining workers’ job security and enabling employers to evade their legal obligations.
The draft amendments, which are not finalised and are part of ongoing negotiations between unions and factory representatives, would allow employers to keep workers on FDCs for up to four years. The amendments do not set a minimum duration for the short-term contracts, but allow for a maximum duration of up to two years.
A Labour Ministry spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the amendments.
The current Labour Law’s regulations on the use of FDCs are contested, but the government’s own dispute-resolution body, the Arbitration Council, has previously ruled that any worker under an FDC for more than two years – no matter how many times the contract was renewed – must be treated as a worker with an “unlimited duration contract” (UDC). Workers with UDCs enjoy greater privileges and legal protections under Cambodian law.
Workers and unions have long complained that short-term FDCs are unfair and abused by employers. A survey published on Tuesday by the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), a local union, found that 94 percent of the 400 workers surveyed preferred a long-term UDC to a short-term FDC.
The Labour Ministry’s draft amendments come as Prime Minister Hun Sen has launched a charm offensive to woo garment workers, a voting bloc hundreds of thousands strong.
He specifically took aim at short-term contracts last month, saying that the contracts cause stress for workers and calling on “employers, GMAC [the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia] and the Ministry of Labour to work on this and ensure job security for our workers”.
CLC leader Ath Thorn, who was involved in the negotiations over the amendments, echoed Hun Sen’s comments yesterday and urged the government to limit the use of FDCs in the revised law.
“We want the contract to become an unlimited duration contract after two years, as it used to be implemented before,” he said.
Te Lea, a 24-year-old garment worker at the Chhueng Sing factory in the capital’s Choam Chao district, said that she also wanted the government to promote the use of UDCs.
“I don’t want the previous enforcement to change,” she said. “If I work two years, I will become a long-term contract [employee]. It should not change to four years.”
A September 2015 report from Swedish NGO Fair Action found that the “widespread use of FDCs in the Cambodian garment sector creates a difficult and precarious situation for the workers employed in it”, and called on brands to ensure that FDCs were not being used by employers to skirt social protection benefits.