The Council of Ministers on Friday green-lighted a contentious law that labor leaders say will make it hard to form unions and collectively bargain.
The draft law will now be debated in the National Assembly, where the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has a majority and will likely pass it.
Union leaders said Friday they fear the draft will be passed with little regard for their concerns, and leaving in provisions that criminalize some of the work of union leaders and make it harder to form unions in the first place.
“We really regret this, and we are afraid that the draft will be debated and will not incorporate some of the recommendations that unions suggested,” said Ath Thun, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union.
An improper law will quickly lead to problems, he said, including labor exploitation, a lack of negotiating power for workers and a decline in working conditions. More union leaders will be jailed, and more violence is possible, as more workers face difficulties with factories, he said.
Cambodia has more than 1,000 unions, in a manufacturing sector that employs 700,000 people. The Council of Ministers said Friday the country needs a law to govern the unions.
However, Ath Thun said unions need more freedom, which the law does not provide. Instead, union leaders now risk taking the blame for rioting workers. If passed, the new law will make it hard to form unions, requiring at least 25 percent of workers’ support in a factory.
Chea Mony, head of the Free Trade Union, said any law that is passed should be in the interest of the workers, otherwise “union leaders will be imprisoned and workers will never have the benefits from their work.” Independent unions have not had enough say in the current draft, he added.
Ngak Savoeun, a workers’ representative in a Phnom Penh garment factory, told VOA Khmer she does not believe the new law will protect her or other workers from violations of their rights, forced overtime or arbitrary termination. “The workers will suffer if their representatives don’t have the freedom to strongly protest and discuss solutions,” she said.