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Labor Officials Defend Contentious Draft Law on Unions

Suon Bunsak, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) holds the pocket version of Cambodia's constitutional law during a press conference on the “stop and consult” campaigning about the draft Law on Associations and Nongovernmental Organizations on Monday, May 4, 2015.

Officials from the Ministry of Labor on Friday defended the drafting of a law to regulate labor unions—one that critics say could be a detriment to workers’ rights.

Some 600,000 people are employed by the garment sector, by far the largest employer in the country. But many workers say they are not earning enough though the government-mandated minimum wage of $128 per month. Unions have strong support among such workers.

Labor Ministry officials said Friday that a draft law, which could be wrapped up soon, will help support union organization.

Union leaders said this week, however, that the law could prevent unions from forming, or workers from joining them, and was written at the behest of factory managers.

“Don’t forget that this law was requested by the employers, and the government agreed to it, meaning that it is made to protect the interest of the employers,” Ath Thon, president of Cambodian Labor Confederation, told VOA Khmer.

Union leaders say they are ready to send a letter to Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng, along with the National Assembly and the international community, calling for a stop to the drafting of the law.

The draft law “doesn’t reflect the protection and strengthening of rights and freedom and interest of the employees, because there are many articles restricting the freedom of unions,” the letter says.

One article of the draft requires 20 percent of workers to support a union in order for it to form. Other articles stipulate major fines and punishments for unions in the case of worker unrest. The draft law also requires unions to register with the government and to be certified in order to operate.

Van Sou Ieng, president of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the law will give confidence to investors, who currently are afraid to open factories here, “because the workers await instructions from unions to stage strikes at any time, without legal procedures.”