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Labor Unions Call For Gov’t To Reconsider Trade Union Law Amendments

In this photo taken on April 4, 2016, Cambodian union leader and activists speak to the press during a rally against the union law, outside the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Leng Len/VOA Khmer)

Cambodian and international civil society organizations released a statement Wednesday urging Prime Minister Hun Sen to reconsider recently-passed amendments to the Trade Union Law, which they said failed to bring the law up to global labor standards.

The Law on Trade Unions was passed in 2016, amid wide criticism for infringing on the rights of workers and unions. Following the passage of the amendments by the government, civil society groups and trade unions have alleged that their recommendations were ignored nor were they adequately consulted.

The amendments to 10 articles of the law were passed by the National Assembly in November, the Senate last week and are now awaiting the King’s assent.

“The 10 proposed amendments to articles 3, 17, 20, 21, 27, 28, 29, 54, 55, and 59 fall short of international labor rights standards and were adopted without an inclusive and genuine consultative process of relevant stakeholders,” reads the statement, addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The statement points to Article 3 which continues to exclude workers in the informal sector, teachers and other public servants from the law’s provisions – in contradiction of the Constitution that says all citizens have the right to form or join a union.

Unions have also asked that the financial and activity reporting requirements in Article 17 be removed because they were interfering with a union’s internal activities and cumbersome.

The amended article now includes an independent auditing mechanism if 10 percent of union members or 5 percent of union donors call for it, and has not reduced or simplified documentation required to maintain registration, the statement reads.

Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour defended the consultation process, where the amendments were discussed, adding that the experts were involved in the discussions. He attributed concerns raised by unions to their right to express their opinions.

“Each person has the freedom to view [this] through the limitations of their education, beliefs and purpose,” he said. “The important thing is the newly amended law is better now.”

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the letter would follow the normal process of first being considered by the Labor Ministry and then being forwarded to the prime minister.

The amendments to the law have been linked to the European Commission’s investigation into rights violations, especially labor rights. The commission next year will decide whether to suspend the “Everything But Arms” trade privileges, that could potentially hurt the garment sector.