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ILO attacks trade union law

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, sits among other union representatives yesterday at a forum in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

ILO attacks trade union law

An International Labour Organization official yesterday called the draft of a Ministry of Labour trade union law “a step backwards” during the opening of a two-day workshop meant to hear concerns of both labour unions and employers.

In a speech to worker representatives, members of the garment industry and the government, ILO industrial relations expert James Ritchotte expressed misgivings at the Labour Ministry’s failure to address many issues that ILO staff – who acted as technical advisers in drafting the proposed legislation – pointed out as problematic.

“What is especially troubling is that the ILO has repeatedly pointed to these and other gaps to the Ministry of Labour task force responsible for developing the legislation,” Ritchotte said to about 60 participants at the InterContinental Hotel yesterday morning. “It appears to ignore requests from ILO’s committee of experts on the application of conventions and recommendations.”

Broad and vague language, especially in the penalties section, opens the door for authorities to abuse the law, Ritchotte said. For example, he pointed out that one article imposes a 6 million riel fine ($1,500) for “not ensuring employment security and national development”.

Sections of the law that do not include public employees and informal sector workers’ right to unionise violate an ILO convention that guarantees freedom of association, Ritchotte said. Another measure in the draft law that could unacceptably limit the number of unions able to negotiate with employers violates ILO conventions on collective bargaining, Ritchotte said.

But Sandra D’Amico, vice president of the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations, said labour rights in Cambodia are progressive.

“I cannot help but reflect on how many buyers have told me the freedom of association that we have in Cambodia is well-practised compared to what they have in many other countries,” D’Amico said.

Foreign investors seek stability, and this necessitates a union law, said D’Amico, who alluded to a January 3 demonstration when authorities shot at least four people dead.

While the workshop has been described as an opportunity for all parties to give their input on the draft legislation before it is introduced and voted on in the National Assembly, Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng said complaints should wait until it is approved, which could happen as early as this year.

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