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Cambodia Labor Leaders Speak Out Against Union Law

  • Neou Vannarin

FILE - Yang Sophoan, director of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Unions, clashes with the security police during a protest joined by over 100 members of labor unions in front of National Assembly, April 4, 2016.

FILE - Yang Sophoan, director of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Unions, clashes with the security police during a protest joined by over 100 members of labor unions in front of National Assembly, April 4, 2016.

Labor leaders in Cambodia are expressing concern over a contentious labor union law passed May 17.

Unionists say the new legislation gives government too much power over union activities and excludes portions of the workforce from labor law protections. They also say it has increased membership thresholds for registration, which undermines workers' rights to form new unions, and obstructs freedom to organize and mobilize garment workers.

"The Ministry asks the unions and employee associations, which have already been registered, as well as those which submitted proposals for registration, to fulfill the conditions and properly implement every obligation as stated in the union law," said a statement released by the labor ministry last week.

It added that the law aims "to ensure the protection of rights and legal interests of every citizen," as well as unions and employers.

Yang Sophoan, director of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Unions, criticized the "fast pace" with which the law was implemented.

"I observe that the main points concerning union rights are being restricted ... [such as] right to peaceful demonstration," she said. "Like an article which states that demonstrations can only take place when there's an agreement among workers of more than 51 percent. So we see that as restricting their rights."

FILE - Cambodian garment workers sew clothes in a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 4, 2007.

FILE - Cambodian garment workers sew clothes in a factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Aug. 4, 2007.

Kong Atith, secretary of the Cambodia Labor Confederation, said the law had not only restricted unions already in existence, but it had also made it harder for non-unionized workers to form new ones.

"The law worries us, [particularly] concerning its implementation and the bureaucratic process, as well as the conditions required by the government, such as financial reports," he said. "While workers also need to fulfill some conditions before forming new unions ... only those with capital can form unions. That's why it's difficult for them."

Labor Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

The International Labor Organization has expressed concerns over the lack of protections the new law affords workers.

Cambodia has more than 3,000 registered unions, but the vast majority are inactive.

Labor rights have long been a contentious issue in the Southeast Asian country, where union strikes seeking higher wages have occasionally been met with a violent response from police.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Khmer service.

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