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Panel points out labour shortcomings in study

A union leader shouts slogans during a garment factory protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal court in 2015.
A union leader shouts slogans during a garment factory protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal court in 2015. Heng Chivoan

Panel points out labour shortcomings in study

A committee of labour experts has expressed “deep concern” over Cambodia’s discriminatory sacking of unionists, its controversial Union Law and its long-languishing investigation into the death of union leader Chea Vichea, in an International Labour Organization (ILO) report released late last week.

Vichea, the founder and president of the Free Trade Union for garment workers, was assassinated in broad daylight in 2004. Despite two men being convicted of his murder – they were widely decried as scapegoats and released for lack of evidence years later his actual killers were never found.

In the report, made public on February 8, the committee notes that an inter-ministerial body was created in August 2015 to investigate multiple high-profile unionist murders but little progress had been made. The ILO body goes on to “express its concern with the lack of concrete results concerning the investigations requested despite the time that has elapsed”.

It also calls for Vichea’s killers’ speedy arrest “in order to end the prevailing situation of impunity in the country with regard to violence against trade unionists”.

The report also outlined the “seriousness of allegations” surrounding a fatal early-2014 crackdown on unions, and the sacking of more than 800 union leaders and workers due to their collective action.

The concerns come ahead of a “direct contacts mission” from the ILO, which Ath Thorn, of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said would visit the Kingdom from March 26 to 30. “The current problems include the Trade Union Law, the dismissal of activists and also the finding of the real people who killed Chea Vichea,” Thorn said.

“We, the unions, have a lot of challenges, and the government has not yet settled our demands.”

The controversial Trade Union Law – passed in April last year – had made it more difficult for workers to unionise and for unions to operate, he added.

William Conklin, Cambodia country director at NGO Solidarity Center, said the report opened up a dialogue about the nation’s labour standards.

“There are many sectors that don’t have trade union rights, such as teachers and informal economy workers [This means] they don’t have the same worker protections,” he said. “The aim of these experts is law conformity, to simplify procedures and make labour relations better. Everyone would like Cambodia to move ahead.”

Labour spokesman Heng Sour declined to comment on Vichea’s case or the report itself, saying he had not seen it.

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