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For Labor Leaders, Law on Unions Remains a Concern

Garment workers throw objects at riot police during a strike near a factory of Canadia Center, on the Stung Meanchey complex at the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Jan. 3, 2014.

Labor leaders say they are concerned that a number of unions would be shuttered if a new law to govern them is passed.

Much like the NGO law, the government is also drafting a law for unions—one that its critics fear could similarly be used to curb decent.

Taken together, the NGO law and the union law—as well as a law on cyber-security— have caused widespread fear among many groups of stricter government control.

The draft has a number of concerning provisions, labor leaders say, including requirements that 25 percent of workers support a union before it can form; that the Labor Ministry decide whether a strike is legitimate; and that unions re-register once the law is in place

“I think when this law is out it means that there will be no more trade unions,” said Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union. “There will be only unions that support the government. By then, working conditions and labor rights will be worse, and workers would be forced to work longer hours.”

The International Labor Organization says it is ready to provide technical support on the law, through input from the government, factories and workers. But Ath Thun said workers are already preparing to vote against lawmakers who approve the law.

Labor Minister Ith Samheng said the law will not “put pressure” on unions. “We take unions and other vocational organizations as our partners,” he said.