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Alarm grows over trade union law in Cambodia

11 June, 2015The Cambodian government is in the process of drafting a new labour law but has not consulted any social partners since October last year. Union busting and violence against workers have increased and the new law threatens to curtail the rights of some of the ILO conventions the country has ratified.

The last 18 months have seen workers in Cambodia taking to the streets to voice demands for an increased minimum wage and better working conditions. Too often these actions have been met with violence from authorities.

Following this violence, global garment brands and trade unions have urged the government to revive a trade union law initially drafted in 2011 and later abandoned.

In 2014 the project of the new law was reinitiated and social partners were consulted. Trade unions and garment brands want to see a law protecting fundamental rights and establishing a more stable foundation for industrial relations in the industry.

However, fears are that the current draft of October 2014 does the opposite.

One suggested article governs the structure of unions and sets a 20 per cent minimum membership requirement to establish a trade union, a threshold which is considered excessive and may prove to be an obstacle.

Another article grants the government powers to suspend the union if its actions do not meet with the government’s approval, like strikes. It also appears to prohibit contact with NGOs that are not registered in Cambodia in an attempt to cut unions off from international solidarity.

Last month, IndustriALL Global Union together with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) wrote to the prime minister of Cambodia, urging the government to reassess a law which is “seriously regressive…far out of compliance with international norms”.

Parts of the draft trade union law are not in compliance with ILO conventions 87 (Freedom of association and protection of the right to organize) and 98 (Right to organize and collective bargaining), both ratified by Cambodia.   

Instead the law risks being a substantial step backward and threatening to undermine rather than protect the rights to freedom of association, to organize and to bargain collectively.

IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina says:

The draft trade union law is drawing criticism from all corners. The Cambodian government cannot allow it to antagonize workers, which will inevitably lead to the deterioration of an already fragile relationship.