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Labor Leaders Threaten Protest Over Draft Law

A Cambodian garment worker speaks on a loud speaker as she leads a strike in front of a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 13, 2010.

Labor leaders say they want the Ministry of Labor to accept their recommendations to a law now being drafted to regulate union activity, threatening they will hold mass demonstrations otherwise.

“If they do not take the recommendations of the unions, there will be a big, peaceful demonstration until they change it,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Thursday.

Union officials say they are opposed to the current version of the Ministry of Labor’s draft law, which they say will make it harder for unions to function and easier for factories to sue labor leaders. Proponents of the law say it will help regulate a sometimes unruly sector and important economic engine.

A second “Hello VOA” guest, Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said too that his and other unions will protest if their recommendations are not adopted.

“In the first stage, we have had discussions with all union leaders in Cambodia, from every political spectrum, and we are all agreed and share the same concerns,” he said.

Ath Thun said the current draft does not allow freedom for unions to execute their duties and makes it more difficult for them to recruit members, by requiring regular reporting to ministries and increasing fines and punishment for union leaders.

The draft will also require unions to run their membership dues through the employer, he said. “That we can’t do, as the employers do not want unions,” he said.

The draft also makes it easy for authorities to suspend or cancel a union’s license or to “punish” unions, he said, a contravention of international conventions.

“If this law is passed without incorporating the opinions of the unions and workers, that means there are no unions’ rights, and violations of the law will increase, because no one will take the risk to be a union leader anymore,” he said.

Rong Chhun said the unions will resubmit their recommendations to the Ministry of Labor on Friday.

The ministry said this week that the draft is meant to benefit workers, not restrict unions. Cambodia has at least 62 unions that represent many of the nation’s 300,000 factory laborers.

Both labor leaders said Cambodians are traveling to outside countries like Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam or Thailand in search of work, because the government has not created jobs for them at home.