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Pass the union law: Hun Sen

Garment factory workers protest outside the Ministry of  Labour last month
Garment factory workers protest outside the Ministry of Labour last month. A statement released by Prime MInister Hun Sen could hamper unions’ abilities to demonstrate, advocates say. Hong Menea

Pass the union law: Hun Sen

A controversial statement released by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday calls for the quick passage of a trade union law, which union advocates say violates international labour conventions.

The statement, which was signed on April 10 but distributed this week, was released ahead of International Labour Day on May 1. It emphasises the need to protect unionised workers’ rights being trampled, including by unions themselves, but advocates warn that legislation may have the opposite effect.

“[We must] keep strengthening the freedoms of unions . . . and prevent discrimination toward unions,” the premier’s letter says. “[We must also] avoid illegal implementations of unions, which do not serve the mutual interests of the workers and employers.”

Hun Sen’s letter also encourages the formation of a labour court.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour yesterday said that the 90-article draft legislation is expected to be completed by early next month. The labour court, Sour said, is expected to be formed by 2017.

But the law, as it is currently penned, would mark a huge blow to independent unions, and result in international repudiation, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center. The draft law prevents large swaths of Cambodia’s workforce from unionising, and favours pro-government labour unions.

“As written, it would make it very easy to form government-aligned unions to the detriment [of] independent unions,” Welsh said. “There would be huge international pushback.”

The draft law stipulates that new unions must include at least 20 per cent of a workplace’s employees, said Moeun Tola, head of the labour department at the Community Legal Education Center. That, in addition with other provisions, such as giving the Labour Ministry final say in authorising a union, will harm unions that lack government backing, he said.

Under the draft legislation, Tola added, unions that hold strikes the government deems illegal could see the suspension or revocation of their certifications.

“The current draft is completely bad.… If it is passed, it will be a big threat for the independent unions to operate, so I think the government should open up for more discussion,” he said.

But given the premier’s influence over all wings of government, “the Ministry of Labour could show their commitment [to Hun Sen] by sending the [current] draft” upwards following his call, Tola said.

Pav Sina, president of Collective Union of Movement of Workers, yesterday said he agreed with the formation of a labour court, but feared rushing the draft law through could spell disaster for unions.

“It does not guarantee freedom for union workers, but is created to protect the employers’ interest,” Sina said. “It could cause unions to collapse.”

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