As Union Law Vote Nears, Employers Call for Last-minute Changes

Source: Khmer Times / Tuesday, 29 March 2016 by Jonathan Cox and Taing Vida

Representatives of employers from Cambodia’s industrial sector called for changes to the contentious draft union law yesterday. They criticized the government’s enforcement of strike regulations while requesting changes to the law that include higher thresholds for forming unions and more powers for dissolving unions.
At a press conference yesterday at the Cambodiana Hotel, the leaders of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia (GMAC) and the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) complained that illegal strikes have disrupted business and made buyers skittish about investing in the Cambodian garment industry. After double-digit exports and year-on-year growth after the 2008 economic recession, the growth of garment sector exports slowed to below 10 percent in 2014, according to GMAC.
“If we don’t know if there are going to be horrible strikes all the time it deters investment,” said Sandra D’Amico, the deputy director of CAMFEBA. “Strikes need to follow the law. They need to be predictable.”
Employers praised the new union law for an article that requires an absolute majority of union members to agree to a strike by secret ballot – an article criticized by union leaders.
Van Sou Ieng, the president of CAMFEBA, accused union leaders of threatening strikes in order to extort money from their employers.
“The only reason [they strike] is individual interest, harassment for money,” he said.
At the 419 factories surveyed by Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) for the Transparency Project, there were 34 strikes last year. According to BFC, almost all of these strikes violated at least one of the legal requirements for a going on strike – most commonly the requirement to give at least seven days’ warning to management before striking.
GMAC members reported a total of 118 strikes last year and said they lost a total of 452,364 days’ worth of labor.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, criticized the existing strike regulations and the new regulations proposed in the draft law.
“I think employee rights are violated by the government sub-decree, which doesn’t allow them to strike when they want,” he said. “They should be allowed to strike at any time.”
The employers said the large number of unions in Cambodia is partly to blame for the high number of strikes. The number of unions in Cambodia has grown from 2,253 in 2011 to 3,166 in 2015. There is now an average of roughly seven unions per factory. Mr. Sou Ieng said this makes negotiations difficult.
“You might see dozens of unions being formed in a workplace like a garment factory that employs thousands of workers,” he said. “And you can imagine how chaotic that would be with the possibility that small unions could hijack labor relations even if bigger unions don’t support them.”
According to the current draft of the Union Law, a local union must be started with at least 10 members. Employers have suggested that the minimum threshold should be at least 20 percent of the business’s employees, while unions and workers’ rights advocates said this would make it difficult for workers at large businesses to unionize.
The employers also called for a major change to the draft law that would make it possible to suspend a union without the court’s approval. They proposed a change to the draft union law that would give the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training the power to suspend or temporarily de-register a union, pending the court’s ruling.
“In the draft union law it says that only the court has the power to cancel the registration,” said Nang Sothy, one of the factory representatives in the working group drafting the law. “The court procedure can take years. This can allow the perpetrator to go free.”
Mr. Thorn said this amendment would put too much power in the government’s hands.
“According to ILO [International Labor Organization] convention, it is not allowed for the government to knock down the trade unions,” he said.
Though the draft law is scheduled to come to a vote next week, the deputy director of the working group, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, said changes could still be made.
“We understand clearly that both the firms and unions have separately demanded changes to the draft law before it is adopted,” he said. “The working group has been working hard to edit the draft law and I think lawmakers from both parties should balance the requests and come up with an acceptable law.”



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