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New push for ILO conventions

People gather in front of the Ministry of Labour in Phnom Penh yesterday to campaign for the adoption of ILO conventions 183 and 189. Photo supplied
People gather in front of the Ministry of Labour in Phnom Penh yesterday to campaign for the adoption of ILO conventions 183 and 189. Photo supplied

New push for ILO conventions

Female workers across multiple sectors yesterday urged two ministries to ratify International Labour Organization conventions to ensure protections for expectant mothers and domestic workers, the latter of whom are not even covered under Cambodia’s Labour Law.

The Women Union Network (WUN), an association of female trade unionists, gathered to petition the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Women’s Affairs yesterday to adopt ILO conventions 183 and 189 – which relate to maternity protection and promoting decent work for domestic workers, respectively.

“We urge the government to ratify it to ensure maternal health protection for women in the labour sector, and to promote workers working in homes, because they all work just like other sectors, and need freedom and protections like other sectors,” the petition reads.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said the treatment of pregnant workers in Cambodian factories was worrisome, because many factories would rather fire them than pay for maternity leave.

Cambodia’s Labour Law clearly stipulates that workers cannot be fired for being pregnant and are entitled to three months’ maternity leave at half their monthly salary. “Also, employers will use short-term contracts, because then they can easily end their work. So pregnant women do not have work security,” she said.

Kandal province native Oun Sokha is one such woman. The garment factory worker – who was on a short-term contract and who asked that her former employer not be named – said she was fired while seven months pregnant on false grounds. “They fired me saying I was watching videos on my phone during work hours,” said Sokha. “They do not pity us as pregnant women who need a job to support our babies.”

Sokha said the Labour Law-mandated option of taking maternity leave was never afforded to her, and she is still unemployed with a now-5-month-old baby. Cambodia has ratified 13 ILO conventions so far – including the eight “fundamental” conventions, which ensure the basic freedoms to association and to organise.

Passed in 2011, Convention 189 is the most recent ILO convention, and ensures that domestic workers are entitled to a minimum wage and protected from workplace violence. However, both the Labour Law and Trade Union Law fail to cover domestic workers, an omission that has been criticised by the ILO and workers’ rights groups.

William Conklin, country director for labour rights advocacy group Solidarity Center, said there had been repeated attempts in the past to get the government to ratify the convention. However, given that the government is working on a prakas to afford domestic workers labour rights, they could be moving in the direction of someday ratifying 189.

“It is important to ensure that this prakas and other legislation conform to Convention 189,” he said, adding that official ratification would open the door to even greater rights for workers. He added that domestic workers ought to be given the right to unionise and that the current drafting of a universal minimum wage law should include such workers.

Spokespersons at the Labour Ministry and Ministry of Women’s Affairs could not be reached for comment.

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