Civil society groups and labor leaders say they want more discussion on a controversial law to regulate unions, as the draft moves through the National Assembly.
The draft left an Assembly committee on Tuesday, but unions say their suggestions for changes to the law, which they feel will stifle their efforts for workers’ rights, have not been incorporated into the draft, despite several meetings.
Labor leaders fear the law ties unions up in red tape, makes it harder to form unions in factories and creates a threatening atmosphere for leaders, who can face jail time for leading demonstrations.
In a joint statement, civil society and labor leaders urged the government to accept changes to the law as they continue to discuss it.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Ath Thun, head of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said the new law would mean a reduction of freedom for unions. “If the law is enforced without proper discussion, I think the union movement will be reduced,” he said. “At that point, the working conditions will be much worse, and there’s a high chance of labor rights violations and exploitation.”
The garment sector employs more than 600,000 people, but many workers say the minimum wage, recently raised to $140 per month, is not enough to live on. Union leaders say the draft law favors factories and managers, not workers, in an already restive industry.
However, Kaing Monica, deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents management, said the law makes sense.
For example, requiring that 20 percent of a factory’s workers be willing to join a union before it is created prevents “only seven to 10 members” from creating one. “Thus, there will be competition among unions in each enterprise,” he said.
He also said unions need quality leadership. “We appeal to union leaders to have a high school education, because they are negotiators with employers,” he said.
Sok Eysan, a lawmaker and spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the National Assembly is working toward a law that is fair to both workers and factories. “The law aims to make all parties involved do things legally, not to invade the other parties’ rights,” he said. “The law protects both parties—employer and employee.”