The Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), a grouping of workers unions, has reported widespread violence and other abuses against workers last year.
In a statement, the CLC said restrictions on the activities of unions, coupled with arrests of activists, intimidation, and violence against workers were a cause for concern.
“The law on trade unions and the latest political developments had narrowed down the freedom of workers and unions,” it said.
The CLC report added that the authorities and companies had filed 43 complaints against its members last year, affecting more than 600 people. Violence was reported against more than 1,000 workers, it said.
However, the group reported a general improvement in the living conditions of workers thanks to a rising minimum wage, which was agreed to following years of bitter protest that resulted in several deaths at the hands of the security forces, as well as other advances in health care and rights.
“While there were some improvements, we also saw challenges, such as the freedom to hold rallies, stage strikes, and demonstrations,” it added.
The CLC statement came ahead of an expected International Labor Organization (ILO) report on the situation for Cambodian workers.
The ILO report called on the government to amend the trade union law to guarantee the rights of minors, remove the requirement to be able to read and write Khmer from the eligibility criteria for union leadership, and also allow workers with prior criminal records to become union leaders.
Ath Thorn, president of the CLC, said solving labor disputes should be a high priority for the government.
“Freedom issues have to be addressed first. If our workers have freedom, our unions have freedom, it would mean that they can negotiate to solve problems,” he said.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, and Heng Sour, labor ministry spokesman, could not be reached for comment.
Chin Malin, a justice ministry spokesman, said the courts had followed due process in all cases against unions and workers. He added that the restrictions on unions and workers did not impinge upon their rights, but prevented “incitement, political manipulation, gangsters, who caused anarchic activities.”
In early 2014, at least five unarmed Cambodians were killed by the security forces during violent protests for higher wages. No officials have faced charges over the killings.