Prime Minister Hun Sen today said there is in fact no need to set up labour courts to solve workplace disputes – despite the Labour Law stipulating their creation – and expressed hope that existing mechanisms, including the government, unions and employers could act in their place.
Speaking to workers in Phnom Penh, the premier said labour disputes should be resolved through compromises, where all parties come out as “winners”. But having a court system, he continued, would effectively create “losers”.
“So we need to find a way to all be winners. Don’t have a winner and don’t have a loser – it is the best,” he said.
Cambodia’s Labour Law spells out the creation of labour courts to address worker-employer disputes. The now-benched draft labour dispute resolution law looked into the creation of such courts. Currently, complainants can approach the Arbitration Council or a court of first instance.
Hun Sen also addressed longstanding cases of mass fainting at factories and instances of it at schools, saying provisions of unspecified pills, which he also referred to as “candy”, could solve this problem.
“They should use pills or candy to protect against any poisonous substances, because in the past when we were in the armed forces and we had any suspicious [symptoms], we often had a candy” that alleviated them, he said, adding further research was needed.
Unionists Pav Sina and Yang Sophorn both agreed that stricter inspection of factory working conditions and ensuring factories improved any shortcomings on the factory floor would help alleviate mass faintings.
However, their opinions differed on the need for labour courts. Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said existing dispute resolution mechanisms were sufficient but needed strengthening.
But Sophorn, who heads the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said specialised labour courts were needed to better protect workers in compliance with the Labour Law.“I think it will be hard for our workers to find justice when the regular courts make judgments on labour disputes,” she said.
Both leaders declined to address the “candy” proposal, and it remained unclear what substance the premier was referencing.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached and the International Labour Organization did not respond to requests for comment.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the premier was hoping all involved parties could use nonconfrontational methods, mediation and arbitration to solve factory disputes.
Even without the courts, he pointed to the Arbitration Council and Courts of First Instance for legal recourse. He said a case could be made to provide the current courts with staffers trained in the intricacies of the Labour Law.
“If the government’s intention is to not set up labour courts, then there can be value to have specialised labour judges in court of first instance,” he said.
Labour rights activist Moeun Tola and William Conklin, country director for the Solidarity Center, said attempts should be made to make Arbitration Council rulings binding or enforced by courts. Currently they are binding only if both parties agree to it beforehand.
“And hopefully that can be resolved through collective bargaining agreements or sectoral memorandums of understanding,” Conklin said.