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Sunday, June 14, 2015

ILO Offers to Work on Trade Union Law

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The International Labor Organization is ready to provide additional support in drafting the controversial trade union law, according to a statement from its Bangkok office that also indicated that the draft falls short of international standards.

Ensuring the legislation complied with international conventions ratified by Cambodia will require “continued and dedicated effort”, the statement said. 

ILO officials, however, declined to comment further. Maurizio Bussi, Director of its Decent Work Technical Support Teams for East and Southeast Asia, said he could not answer questions because the legislation is still being drafted. 

Opposition Mounting

Unions and rights groups, however, have said the drafting process – which began in 2008 – is leading to shoddier results and that summaries of the current draft indicate it is “worse than ever.” 

“It violates international labor standards, can set back labor relations and won’t help the Cambodian economy,” said William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Center. 

Tola Moeun, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, told Khmer Times that the latest version of the bill requires a trade union to have 25 percent of an enterprise’s workforce before it can officially register. Moreover, it gives the Labor Ministry the power to decide on its own whether a strike is legal or not and that the criteria for making such decisions is vague and broad.

Strikes deemed illegal could also lead to fines of 100 million riel (about $25,000) and a one-year jail sentence for the organizer, Mr. Tola said. 

Human Rights Watch previously said that the October 2014 version of the law violates international standards. One provision allows the government to disband unions if they are associated with groups deemed harmful to the economy, the watchdog said.  

Unions have called on members of Parliament to vote against the law if the current draft is submitted to them. They have also threatened to vote against any lawmaker who supports it. 

Union leader Ath Thorn said opposition to the draft extends to Parliament. The head of the committee on labor and social affairs, Ke Sovannroth, opposes the current draft and intends to hold talks with the ILO as well as committee members about it. 

Officials with the Labor Ministry to did not respond to requests for comment. 

Jumping the Gun?

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia, told Khmer Times critics of the legislation were jumping the gun. Their concerns are dubious because they have not seen the latest draft, he added. 

Mr. Loo said that current labor laws have “never been enforced” and are not specific enough to govern unions. It is incorrect to view the upcoming legislation as an effort to tighten controls on union because it is intended to create framework. 

“What we have now is anarchy,” he said. 

Mr. Loo said that GMAC also had reservations about the draft it saw last year and had requested clarification on several points.  

Brand Awareness

Representatives of major global brands contacted by Khmer Times said they were following the issue closely. Some, including Levis Strauss & Co, criticized the drafting process. 

“We urge the Government of Cambodia to make the draft law public and consult with all stakeholders to ensure a democratic and transparent legislative process,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We appeal to the Government to ensure that any trade union law under consideration align with the ILO’s international labor standards.” 

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