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Labor Unionists Decry Lack of Consultation on Union Law Amendments

In this photo taken in April 2016, over 100 garment and construction workers gathered in front of the National Assembly to demand the government not to pass the controversial union law, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

Worker unions criticized the National Assembly’s passing of 10 amendments to the contentious Trade Union Law on Tuesday, saying they were not aware of the exact nature of the amendments passed by parliament.

The National Assembly passed the amendments on Tuesday. But, trade unions said they were not consulted before the amendments were voted on by lawmakers, which have not been made public by the legislative body. The amendments will have to be passed by the Senate before being signed into law by the King.

The Trade Union Law has been long-criticized for restrictive measures against union formation, discouraging collective worker actions and for excessive bureaucratic requirements, such as activity and financial reports that need to be submitted to the Labor Ministry annually.

The changes to the law are likely linked to labor rights concerns flagged by the European Union, which is reviewing the potential withdrawal of the ‘Everything But Arms’ trade scheme, which is critical for garment sector exports.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said the government seemed little interested in amending the law to address workers’ concerns, and more focused on assuaging EU concerns over labor violations.

“The [law] that was amended was because of pressure from Europe on the EBA preferences, not on the request and [recommendations] of unions,” he said.

VOA Khmer could not reach National Assembly spokesperson Leng Peng Long for comment.

Ath Thorn, a representative of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, also expressed dismay at the surreptitious passing of amendments, which, he said, left worker unions in the dark.

“The parliament is a large legislative body that should take this proposal seriously and give us the opportunity to consult before adopting anything,” Ath Thorn said.

As the law heads to the Senate, representatives for seven worker unions sent a letter to Senator Mean Sam An, asking for meeting before the upper house of parliament considers the amendments. Mean Sam An had not responded to the request as of Tuesday.