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Report from labour council says Kingdom disputes down in 2017

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Labour Minister Ith Somhenh presides over a meeting of the Arbitration Council in Phnom Penh on Monday. Heng Chivoan

Report from labour council says Kingdom disputes down in 2017

In its 2017 Annual Report, the Arbitration Council said collective labour disputes registered with it had dropped significantly after the government implemented the Trade Union Law.

Launched on Monday, the report said the council received 248 labour disputes in 2016, but last year only 50 cases were filed for arbitration.

“During the last two years the situation changed significantly, and the number of cases registered at the Arbitration Council declined. This could be due to the implementation of the Trade Union Law,” said the report.

The government enacted the law in May 2016 to facilitate the settlement of employer-employee disputes, and improve industrial relations between both parties.

On average, the council received 20 cases each month, but it gradually fell to five cases per month after the law was introduced in September 2016.

However, there is a flip side to the story. While the council insists that employer-employee disputes had dropped sharply, workers’ representatives lament that the law is a setback as labour grouses cannot be taken up for arbitration due to bureaucratic hurdles.

Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) program coordinator Khun Tharo said registering trade unions was a cumbersome process as the law was complicated.

“Registering a trade union is complicated because the requirements are complicated. Starting from 2017, many found it hard to register and are unable to function.

“When unions do not have documents to prove they are workers’ representatives, how can they represent them in disputes? So it is a challenge to solve labour issues and presents a problem for workers too,” Tharo said.

He said labour officials are given the jurisdiction to decide whether to send workers’ disputes to the Arbitration Council in the first place.

“The law gives so much power to the officials and they have the right to reject the case or forward it to the council. In most cases, they say we don’t have representation or we do not have the (legal) documents to represent labour cases,” Tharo claimed.

On the same note, he praised the council’s work as most of their decisions were recognised by international companies, especially foreign ones.

“The Arbitration Council helped to improve working conditions, compensate workers and provide workers’ benefits. It effectively solved 70 per cent of the cases. Overall it is efficient.

“I think the government should amend the Trade Union Law, and make it easier to register unions so they can represent workers. Most importantly, we must have direct access to the cases so they need not be referred by labour officials,” he said.

‘Workers scared’

Unions and labour rights’ activists claimed that the decline in labour cases going for arbitration does not indicate a drop in employer-employee disputes.

Cambodia Alliance of Trade Union (CATU) president Yang Sophorn said the prevailing trend is not healthy for industrial relations, especially for workers.

“It does not mean disputes do not happen. Workers are just scared of protests because they are afraid they would be beaten up. And, it does not mean both employers and workers understand each other better either.

“When disputes happen, workers, employers and the government are at the losing end. It really affects workers’ interest when their disputes are not resolved,” she said.

Labour Dispute Department said the 476 individual labour cases were registered with the department in 2017. Of this, 228 were solved, 191 cases could not be settled and 57 cases were thrown out.

The department also received 127 collective labour disputes and managed to solve 56 cases, while 70 was not settled and one case was rejected.

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