Members of 30 independent and government-leaning labour unions and labour advocacy groups met yesterday to discuss aspects of a draft trade union law they want altered, and strategies for accomplishing the changes.
The nearly 200 participants gathered in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district, where they focused on about 30 of the draft legislation’s 91 articles, to bring the much-criticised law more in line with international standards, said Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation.
“Seventy per cent of the draft bill is taken from the existing Labour Law, and about 30 per cent of it is new restrictions, which were written to satisfy employers regarding issues they have raised,” Thorn said yesterday.
“That is why we are concerned that this law may severely damage trade unions in Cambodia.”
Articles in question include one that stipulates unions must garner support of 20 per cent of a workplace before forming a union or opening a union chapter, one that exempts workplaces with less than 27 employees from allowing union formation and several that place penalties, including jail time, for holding strikes that have not been sanctioned by the government, Thorn said.
The Ministry of Labour has not released a current version of their draft law, but unionists who attended yesterday’s conference used a version that was leaked in May of last year.
In addition to the 30 articles that unionists believe limit unions’ freedom and ability to operate, the group yesterday proposed the law’s name be changed from “Law on Unions of Enterprises” to the “Law on Industrial Relations”, Thorn said.
This title would more clearly include employers as well as unions in the legislation.
A copy of the suggested changes was sent to the office of Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng, Thorn said.
If government officials move ahead without discussing the suggested changes by July 26, Thorn said, about 1,000 people will demonstrate at the National Assembly.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday, but has insisted that the draft law is intended to protect unionists’ interests.
Tep Tun Vannery, secretary general of the National Trade Union Confederation – one of the representatives who met yesterday – said she welcomed the draft law, as long as modifications can be made.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN