Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Strikes down, but advocates, officials differ on significance



Strikes down, but advocates, officials differ on significance

Officials attend a conference to review the Ministry of Labour’s annual report on Monday.
Officials attend a conference to review the Ministry of Labour’s annual report on Monday.

Strikes down, but advocates, officials differ on significance

Strikes in Cambodia plummeted by more than half last year, according to the Ministry of Labour’s annual report – a statistic lauded by the government as evidence that worker conditions had improved but rejected by labour advocates as a sign that dissent was being suppressed.

At the opening ceremony of a two-day meeting to discuss the report on Monday, Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng said the ministry “fully respected” the rights of unions.

“The collaboration between worker unions and employers improved a lot,” Sam Heng said. “That reduced labour disputes, and there were fewer protests, strikes and illegal demonstrations.”

However, labour rights advocates expressed scepticism about the ministry’s interpretation of the data.

Monina Wong, the Asia-Pacific officer for the International Trade Union Confederation, pointed to the effects of the much-criticised Trade Union Law, passed in 2016.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post

“A lot of the unions are very cautious now,” Wong said. “That means the number of strikes organised by unions, I would expect, went down a lot. That does not necessarily mean disputes were less or disputes were more efficiently resolved.”

The number of collective complaints lodged at the ministry also fell by two-thirds last year, while the number of individual disputes more than doubled, a figure that Wong said lent more credibility to the theory that unions were being suppressed by the new law.

Rights groups have accused the law of being a thinly veiled attempt to shackle union leaders with tedious new rules, such as requiring unions to register at least 50 percent of the workers on the floor or requiring three original copies of meeting attendance sheets to register a new union.

In December, several union leaders told The Post that they felt afraid to intervene or assist workers in factory disputes due to the law.

Solidarity Center Senior Program Officer Khun Tharo cited both the Trade Union Law and the tense political climate ahead of the July national elections as reasons why strikes might be decreasing. “

Workers and trade union leaders really do not have a space to exercise their rights,” Tharo said. “They are scared or fearful of being accused of incitement. There are fears that trade union leaders, or even workers, are not secure [in leading strikes].”

In addition to strikes, the ministry reported another 89 demonstrations or protests last year – less than half the number of demonstrations in 2016.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • Seven positive for Covid-19, Hun Sen confirms local transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that there has been local community transmission of Covid-19. However, he urged the people not to panic even though the Ministry of Health announced the discovery of seven new cases on Sunday. Among the victims are Chhem Savuth, the director-general

  • Without shoes or a helmet, a young cyclist steals the show

    Pech Theara gripped the curved handlebars of his rusty old bike, planted his bare feet on its pedals and stormed as fast as he could towards the finish line. The odds were against him as the 13-year-old faced off against kids with nicer bikes at

  • Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway on schedule

    The construction of the more than $1.9 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway has not been delayed despite the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than 26 per cent of the project completed and expected to finish in about two years, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport secretary of

  • Over 110 garment factories close

    A government official said on November 22 that at least 110 garment factories had closed in the first nine months of the year and left more than 55,000 workers without jobs – but union leaders worry those numbers could be much higher. Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training undersecretary

  • Singapore group seeks $14M in damages from PPSP over ‘breach of contract’

    Singapore-based Asiatic Group (Holdings) Ltd is seeking a minimum of $14.4 million relief from Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX)-listed Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone Plc (PPSP) for allegedly breaching a power plant joint venture (JV) agreement. Asiatic Group’s wholly-owned Colben System Pte Ltd and 95 per

  • PM vows to protect Hun family

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has vowed to continue his fight against opposition politicians who he said intend to smash the Hun family. Without naming the politicians but apparently referring to former leaders of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Hun Sen said there