Two US-based organisations sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training last week, following a meeting with it in October to discuss the rights of workers in the Kingdom’s garment and footwear sector, among others.
Fair Labor Association (FLA) and American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) wrote a joint follow-up letter to the minister, Ith Sam Heng, recommending that the government improve workers’ rights.
“At the centre of these recommendations is our view that workers need the freedom to represent and speak for themselves without fear of retaliation or retribution. We hope that this core value will inform whatever reform your government is taking to go forward,” the letter said.
The organisations expressed “particular concerns” over the criminal charges against several union leaders, saying they “undermined the role and reduced the independence of the Arbitration Council which previously had been a very effective dispute resolution mechanism”.
“We urge [the Cambodian] government to guarantee respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and provide full protection of all human rights defenders in your country.
“Political freedoms, rule of law and enforcement of international civil and labour rights are essential for international trade and responsible business,” the letter read.
FLA and AAFA recommended that the government use the Arbitration Council to solve work-related disputes and make the union registration system simpler and transparent by publishing complete and current statistics of union registration and its status.
They also urged the government to allow unions to write their own by-laws without interference, remove legal restrictions and lengthy procedures that make legal strikes nearly impossible and to remove Article 13 of the Trade Union Law.
Moreover, the groups recommended the government to amend some parts in the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations (Lango) by “removing onerous and intrusive reporting requirements”.
“Stop using methods that intimidate civil society groups, such as sending police to visit their office, intimidating staff and family members, as well as filing criminal charges that will never be resolved in a timely manner,” the letter ended.
Cambodia Alliance of Trade Union (Catu) president Yan Saphorn said: “I support the recommendations. We work for workers’ rights. We want appreciation, not lawsuits.”