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Unions flag legislative issues

Union workers protest the Trade Union Law outside the National Assembly in April.
Union workers protest the Trade Union Law outside the National Assembly in April.

Unions flag legislative issues

Independent unions yesterday said they have faced increased bureaucratic obstacles to registering new, factory-level unions since the implementation of the Trade Union Law, while also raising concerns over two new pieces of legislation in the pipeline.

At a meeting to discuss labour-related legislation, established unions said they had failed to bring new factories into the fold since the law took effect in May, pointing to a cumbersome documentation process they said authorities frequently thwarted over small clerical errors.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), said that, since May, he had tried to form 10 unions across various sectors but that each had been stymied by provincial labour departments citing incomplete documentation.

“The authorities will receive the documents from the workers, but they will not authorise it or accept it,” he said.

Thorn was backed up by Morm Rithy, president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers’ Federation, who said workers had tried to form a union at a casino in Poipet, but after notifying ownership, the union leader was fired. “Then the casino tells workers the union is not registered and workers are intimidated not to attend further meetings,” he said.

Additionally, a pair of new draft laws – one on labour dispute resolution procedures and the other on a universal national minimum wage – were flagged by unionists as having articles that were ambiguous and unfairly punitive.

The current draft on labour dispute resolution procedures looks to streamline the process from the factory floor all the way to the long-promised labour courts. However, unionists worry punitive damages of 5 million to 10 million riel ($1,250 to $2,500) for failing to resolve disputes with “integrity”, “good faith” and “mutual understanding” – terms used in the draft – could be arbitrarily used against them.

Preap Sambath, a CLC official, said the new law also needs to ensure that all parties stick to the procedures outlined. “They factories skip these procedures now and go straight to court and it is stuck there for years,” he said.

Today, the Labour Ministry will hold a tripartite meeting to discuss the draft minimum wage law, which currently looks to expand the existing wages to all sectors nationally in a step-by-step process.

The draft has been criticised for disallowing independent research in wage determination as well as for outlining fines for anyone who criticises or questions the wage.

While the flaws in the law had been flagged, William Conklin, country program director for the Solidarity Center, said unions also need to consider if they were agreeable to continuing the established tripartite process for the garment sector, which over the last two years has skewed towards the government and employers.

Multiple attempts to reach the Ministry of Labour were unsuccessful yesterday.

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