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Minister defends draft union law

Union leader Pav Sina holds up a list of demanded changes to the draft trade union law earlier this month at the National Assembly.
Union leader Pav Sina holds up a list of demanded changes to the draft trade union law earlier this month at the National Assembly. Heng Chivoan

Minister defends draft union law

Labour Minister Ith Samheng made a lengthy defence of the draft trade union law yesterday, claiming it would stabilise the Kingdom’s troubled labour relations, even as he pledged to find the “mastermind” behind recent protests in the Svay Rieng town of Bavet.

Speaking during a pro-government union group’s annual congress, Samheng said the law would crack down on illegal strikes, and defended a controversial clause making unions report their finances to authorities as a “transparency” measure.

“We have to keep our rice pot from breaking. We need to ensure investors have factories, jobs and unions,” he said.

However, Samheng also claimed the law was union-friendly and would not make it easier for the government to de-register unions, touting past concessions such as the loosening of union leaders’ age and criminal record requirements.

“The union draft law tightens the Ministry of Labour’s regulatory procedures; the ministry cannot do whatever it wants.”

Samheng also blamed violent demonstrations that rocked Bavet for two weeks starting on December 16 on shady instigators who needed be punished.

“We need to find a mastermind who incited the workers to make problems,” he said.

The comments come as the Cambodia National Rescue Party and Cambodian People’s Party plan to meet today to work out criticisms of the law.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, was unconvinced.

“We are unhappy with the draft law because it restricts unions’ and workers’ rights regarding registration, strikes, demonstrations, penalties, and the government’s involvement in unions’ finances,” he said.

“When the Ministry of Labour is unhappy with us, they will slow down the registration process, while striking requires a 50 per cent-plus-one [member] majority even though we would not have this [percentage] of workers.”

Still, Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said he was cautiously optimistic the CPP would make more concessions, as the law would affect hundreds of thousands of unionists.

Mora added that Samheng’s mention of the Bavet strikes did not open the window for tougher clauses since unions did not take part.

“In our view, the situation became worse because of the union-busting in that area.”

Employers remain insistent that some of the law’s concessions, particularly one reducing the number of workers required to create a union to 10 people, are too generous, enabling unions to chaotically proliferate on the shop floor.

“It does not solve the issue that this law was created to resolve,” Ken Loo, spokesman for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said.

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