Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Workers Submit Petition To Government on International Labor Day

Union leaders and garment workers submit a petition to the Labor Ministry on International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Ly Rosslan)
Union leaders and garment workers submit a petition to the Labor Ministry on International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Ly Rosslan)

Nearly 1,000 workers from various sectors gathered at the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) park in conjunction with the 138th International Labor Day, themed “Together to promote labor rights, freedom of association and better work in Cambodia”, to demand an increase in garment workers’ salary and restore the rights of union.

The workers, who assembled early in the morning, later marched around Wat Phnom and to the National Assembly to submit a petition to the president and the government.

Both old and young, the workers were dressed in white shirts, chanted slogans through microphones to voice their concerns and urge the government to consider the issue of workers, both formal and informal, who continue being harassed by employers.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), said the purpose of the International Labor Day celebration was to ask the government to raise workers’ wages to $250 and set a minimum wage for other sectors. He opined that the current wage is decided by the employer.

Thorn also raised the issue of the national social security fund, where there is still a gap“ as it needs to be expanded and [strengthened], as it was beneficial for workers.

He said freedom of association in factories have been suppressed by most company owners, which includes the right to stand for election, the right to be represented and the right to strike. 

“We know that there are hundreds of disputes that have been stalled and cannot be resolved, and for the past four to five years there have been no protests in factories because union rights were revoked,” he said.

Workers and union leaders gather at a garden in Phnom Penh to celebrate International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

The union leader urged the government to repeal the provisions affecting workers, such as waiving charges and releasing workers who have been prosecuted, as in the case of NagaWorld.

Workplace safety issues are also a must. Thorn asked the government to urge employers to pay attention to workers in all sectors, such as garment workers, construction workers and service workers.

He noted that the rights of workers and unions have decreased significantly. “We are very concerned that if there are more restrictions, the worker will lose their right to be a representative in the future, thus there may be high levels of exploitation and injustice,” Thorn said.

Meanwhile, representatives of the National Assembly and the government came out to receive the petition and stated that the 18-point petition includes issues such as wages, social security and other employment issues which the government already tackles. 

“The new government is not indifferent, it has taken care of the people’s livelihood,” a representative of the National Assembly said. “I will send this petition as I always do.” 

Workers and union leaders gather at a garden in Phnom Penh to celebrate International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Garment worker Soeun Sokleap, 39, from Kampong Chhnang province, said the International Labor Day celebration meant a lot to her and other workers as it helped them express their concern and hoped that those issues will be heard by the government.

She added that some companies did not respect the labor law even though the law is good because the implementation is poor. She sees that workers still experience short contracts, which make it difficult for them to express their rights.

“That’s why I joined the International Labor Day. I want our government to look at our issues because we are facing difficulties,” Sokleap said.

The minimum wage for garment workers was raised by $4, bringing the total minimum wage to $204 per month in 2024. 

Sokleap said garment workers’ minimum wage is “not much” as they need to cover the cost of living which has become expensive, as well as pay for medicine even though they can use their National Social Security Fund (NSSF) card. This is because some hospitals do not attend to workers who use their NSSF card.

“Our salary isn’t much and everything is expensive. Sometimes I take private loans to meet our needs as some hospitals discriminate against workers who have NSSF.”

“The doctor doesn’t pay much attention to them, so workers have to use their own money to get treatment at private clinics. Thus, we urge the government to increase our salary and tackle these issues for us,” Sokleap said.

Workers and union leaders gather at a garden in Phnom Penh to celebrate International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Another worker from Kandal province, Nget Se, 33, said she saw an improvement in the provision of NSSF for workers to reduce costs. But there is still frequent restriction of rights and exploitation of workers by factory owners.

“I see the existence of unions has helped a lot of workers [from being violated] and for me, International Labor Day allows me to express my concern and ask the government to increase workers’ salary to $250 to match the cost of living,” Se said.

In the meantime, 19 civil society organizations and approximately 200 workers also submitted a petition to the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training on Wednesday morning. They called for a review of the strict laws relating to trade unions, discrimination and violations of trade union rights.

Ou Tepphallin, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation said the petition also urged the ministry to resolve current issues because the previous settlement did not seem to be effective, and many disputes remain unresolved.

“Even though there have been past disputes, there seems to be no solution to the problem, such as union leaders being prosecuted or imprisoned for their actions as union leaders,” she said.

President of Cambodian Alliance of Trade Union, Yang Sophorn, told reporters that the ministry promised to accept the petition, telling them that “workers’ hardships are also the hardships of the government.”

She hoped that what the ministry said was true and that they will find a solution for the workers.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve submitted this petition. We have submitted it several times, but we haven’t received any positive response or asked our stakeholders to take part in any resolution in the ministry,” she said, adding that they will not stop until they receive a solution.

Union leaders and garment workers submit a petition to the Labor Ministry on International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Ly Rosslan)

Am Sam Ath, operations director of human rights NGO Licadho, said many workers and unions still face problems to this day, with regards to the registration of unions, where complaints about discrimination continue to exist in a democratic society.

“All these problems should not happen,” he said, urging the ministry to review and resolve those issues. 

“We see the international community, as well as the Human Rights Council, often raise the issue of fundamental freedoms,” added Sam Ath, stating that fundamental freedoms are very strict on workers, civil society and environmental activists. He said this is contrary to the principles of democracy.

Katta Orn, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, said he has received the petition from the civil society organization, and would examine the demands.

He said unlike what is claimed by unions and civil society organizations, the gathering and submission of the petition show that there was space for freedom of association and civil society organizations in Cambodia.

“The settlement of labor disputes stood at 91.80%, which is an increase of 80.95% from 2023. According to the procedure, the ministry shall refer cases of non-recovery to the Arbitration Council,” said Orn. The ministry encouraged workers and unions to continue filing complaints with them if they experienced discrimination.

Workers and union leaders gather at a garden in Phnom Penh to celebrate International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Pen Bona, spokesperson for the government, said labor rights in Cambodia were widely recognized by partner organizations and local workers. Labor rights in Cambodia have improved significantly, with labor disputes having declined, he added.

Currently, there are only a “few disputes” because “workers understand their rights and responsibilities clearly and practice them well”.

“If he wants to fight legally, ask him to find a lawyer, hire a good lawyer to defend,” Bona said, adding that legal actions against any person who violates the law is adjudged in courts. No individual or institution can order the court to make decisions.

Workers and union leaders gather at a garden in Phnom Penh to celebrate International Labor Day on May 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
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