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GMAC no fan of union law revisions

A union leader speaks during a garment factory protest in front of the Phnom Penh court last month. GMAC is pushing to have revisions made to the draft union law after amendments were made last week.
A union leader speaks during a garment factory protest in front of the Phnom Penh court last month. GMAC is pushing to have revisions made to the draft union law after amendments were made last week. Heng Chivoan

GMAC no fan of union law revisions

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia says it will push for revisions made on the draft trade union law last week to be changed.

During a meeting on July 28, the Ministry of Labour said it had revised a number of provisions in the law, which is expected to be passed later this year.

One of the most significant changes included lowering the minimum threshold for creating a union from 20 per cent of a factory’s workers to 10 people.

While welcomed by pro-government unions, the changes were seen as conceding too little by labour activists.

For the employers represented by GMAC, however, the changes went way too far.

“We are surprised at the reversal, and I think we’re extremely concerned,” GMAC general secretary Ken Loo said yesterday.

“Of course, we will continue to lobby the government, but we don’t know if there will be any impact of that, or what the final iteration [of the law] will look like.”

Loo said GMAC was especially concerned about the condition that lowered the threshold for creating unions.

“This is detrimental to both employers and the workers”, he said, warning that a “multiplicity” of unions would make it difficult for management to effectively bargain and implement changes on the shop floor.

“If we work with one [union], we antagonise the rest. We want a partner we can negotiate with.”

While some in the union sector agreed that Cambodia’s unions were sometimes too numerous and disorganised to bargain effectively, they cautioned that the government’s original threshold was too high.

William Conklin, country program director of the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center, agreed that unions multiplying could dilute bargaining power.

“That is an issue,” he said. “[Cambodia] is the opposite of some countries, where you organise first, then register. Here you register first and organise later.”

Nevertheless, Conklin said that the original threshold was “clearly excessive”, while the recent concession was small compared to core issues in the draft law, such as vaguely worded provisions on national security that could be used to target disobedient unions.

Conklin added that last week’s consultation was more of a “presentation” by the government, with little to no input from independent unions, and no full draft law released.

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation, said that while the Kingdom’s more than 3,400 unions can lack unity due to their high number, other issues limited their effectiveness more.

“Some unions take money from their employers, then when others become pro-government, they receive money from the government,” he said.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment.

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