Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Unions unsatisfied with Trade Union Law amendments

Garment workers travelling to work along the national road number 3. Panha Chhorpoan

Tweaks to the controversial Trade Union Law fail to address unions’ major concerns, labor leaders said this week following the cabinet’s approval of a series of amendments.

Since its passage in 2016, the Trade Union Law has been blamed for a major drop in cases brought to the Arbitration Council, dozens of unions blocked from registering with the Labor Ministry, and a reported decline in workers’ ability to negotiate with employers.

On Friday, the Council of Ministers approved changes to 10 articles of the law, but unions told CamboJA that the amendments failed to address their main concerns and that requested changes to five other articles were ignored.

Khun Tharo, a coordinator for labor rights NGO Central, said the law, even in its amended form, posed obstacles to union registration, blocked unregistered unions from performing basic functions, and enabled employer-driven dissolution of unions.

A controversial clause allowing only unions representing the majority of a company’s workers to undertake collective bargaining also remained, Tharo said.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, claimed that the many of the changes amounted to a mere change in wording rather than substance.

“There are [still] limits to our unions’ right to lead a strike with our members,” Thorn said.

The articles amended were 3, 17, 20, 21, 27, 28, 29, 54, 55 and 59, with articles 10, 14, 43, 47 and 67 unchanged despite requests, he added.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said that interested parties could request more changes if there were unsatisfied, but that many of their demands were already addressed in the law.

“We only put 10 articles in the amendment because we saw that what they requested was already included in the articles,” Sour said.

When the law was passed in April 2016, the International Labour Organization reiterated its concerns with the law’s drafts over “insufficient protection of the right of all workers and employers to freely set up organizations of their own choosing, and of the right of these organizations to decide on their internal matters without interference” but urged that attention turn to implementing the law in a fair and impartial way.

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