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New law will stifle us: unions

Independent union president Ath Thorn speaks to the media in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month
Independent union president Ath Thorn speaks to the media in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court last month. Thorn is facing incitement charges over a strike last year. Heng Chivoan

New law will stifle us: unions

While trade union laws are typically written to expand organised labour rights, labour leaders said yesterday that they oppose portions of a new draft union law they believe will stifle their ability to organise.

Amid meetings they are having with the Ministry of Labour and industry officials today and Thursday, several union leaders said they oppose new additions to the draft law, a previous version of which was tabled in November 2011.

“It seems to lock many out from creating unions,” Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said.

If passed into law as written, the draft legislation would require at least 20 per cent of employees at a workplace to join a union for it to operate there. It also stipulates that only one union may exist per workplace.

Unions do not currently require a minimum number of members to set up in a single workplace, and there are no limits on the number of unions.

The rule could lead to wide-scale dominance of government-loyal unions and seriously hamper those that are independent, Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun said.

“I will demand that they change some points,” he said yesterday.

Ministry of Labour officials began working with the International Labour Organization on the proposed law’s current version in December, ministry spokesman Heng Sour said.

“I think [the draft law] first protects the rights of the workers and protects the interest of the economy and the nation,” he said. It also impedes “anarchy” and “exploitation of freedom”, he added.

While unfamiliar with the exact language in the latest draft, Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said the idea of passing a law that reduced rights ran contrary to international norms. “If that is the objective of the Cambodian law, it is unique around the world, but for the wrong reasons,” Welsh said.

Despite Sina’s opposition to several points, he said one section that lowers the minimum age for a union member to be allowed to become president from 25 to 18 could mean better representation of young workers, who make up a great deal of Cambodia’s workforce.

Draft law talks follow recent unrest in the garment industry, including workers being fatally shot, unionists arrested, freedom of association being targeted and business groups challenging workers’ right to strike.

Yesterday, six members of the Khmer Worker Power Federation Union were released on bail from a Kampong Speu prison, according to Chey Sovann, the union’s president.

The six were accused of incitement during a strike at the Wing Star Shoes factory on May 6.

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