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Unions eye draft law changes

Ith Sam Heng (centre), minister of labour, talks to officials earlier this year in Phnom Penh during a meeting about the trade union draft law at the Ministry of Labour.
Ith Sam Heng (centre), minister of labour, talks to officials earlier this year in Phnom Penh during a meeting about the trade union draft law at the Ministry of Labour. Vireak Mai

Unions eye draft law changes

A group of more than 20 independent union groups has released a revised version of the changes it wants made to the trade union law after the controversial draft legislation was finally released in full to the government last month.

Until that point, unions had been in the dark about what the draft legislation actually contained.

Their more specific demands now include lowering the minimum required threshold for a union to be created to three rather than 10 workers, and limiting a provision banning union leaders with criminal convictions to only those with convictions “that question their integrity”.

The changes also call for more types of workers to be allowed to create trade unions and for higher fees for employers who violate labour laws.

The changes are similar to ones suggested by a report from the International Trades Union Congress released on November 30, which said it was “deeply concerned” by the law despite some concessions in the past.

In July, for example, the Ministry of Labour reduced the minimum number of workers to create a union from 20 per cent of a shop floor to just 10 people.

Ken Loo, spokesman for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which has repeatedly complained of too many unions jostling for power on the shop floor, said lowering the minimum amount of workers to three as suggested in the latest changes was “a pretty silly idea” since a three-member union would have no actual membership beyond key office holders.

However, William Conklin, country director of the Solidarity Center, which oversaw the drafting of the latest list of demands, said the three-person threshold was more about protecting a few workers trying to start a union from getting fired than actually enabling the creation of tiny unions.

The unions continued raising awareness about the law by discussing it with staff from the French and Australian embassies yesterday, and plan to sit down with the US and Japanese embassies today to put further pressure on development partners.

As part of the unions’ push, they will also submit a letter today asking to meet with lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party following their meeting with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party last Friday.

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said the latest version of the law still gave too much power to the Ministry of Labour to withdraw unions’ registrations.

“It does not let unions work independently to protect and promote workers rights,” he said.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

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