Cambodia made the list of the 10 worst countries in terms of labour rights, according to a report released last week by the International Trade Union Confederation.
The annual report said that Cambodia dropped in its rankings for two reasons: the passage of the new Union Law, which “further limited workers’ ability to negotiate over their working conditions and pay”; and violent police crackdowns on labour protests.
“Despite relentless opposition . . . the government approved the law which will among other things impose new limits on the right to strike, facilitate government intervention in internal union affairs and permit third parties to seek the dissolution of trade unions — while at the same time imposing only miniscule penalties on employers for unfair labour practices,” the authors wrote.
Moeun Tola, the director of labour NGO Central, agreed with the conclusions of the report.
“Khmer workers nowadays are like modern day slaves,” he said. “First, they are handcuffed to a short-term contract. When they are not happy with work conditions, they do not dare to protest. If they protest, their contract will not be renewed when it expires.”
He said that three-quarters of Cambodian workers had been forced into short term contracts. He said they also faced violence or unfair court charges in retaliation for striking or protesting.
International Labour Organization country coordinator Tun Sophorn said that while police crackdowns on strikers did happen, they were “inconsistent” and happened for different reasons unique to each strike.
He added that while he hadn’t seen the ITUC report and couldn’t comment on its specifics, he doubted that Cambodia’s labour rights situation had deteriorated since last year.
According to Sophorn, it was too early to tell how the Union Law, which passed the National Assembly in April, had affected labour conditions in the country.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour dismissed the study as an “indexation by an organisation, which has no base in Cambodia and depends on fake news, which does not reflect what’s happening in Cambodia”.
“If this organisation indexes Cambodia . . . as stricter than China or Burma, this evaluation has no basis [in reality],” he added.