Labor rights activists from five countries in the region gathered Monday in Phnom Penh to share insights and try to find ways to strengthen labor law enforcement.
“Labor laws were enacted but are poorly enforced due to widespread corruption and weak labor organizations,” Seng Phally, director of the Cambodian Labor Organization, said in his introductory speech at the three-day Indo-China Labor Law Workshop. “There is a strong need to link our solidarity work in labor development with Indo-China labor unions and NGOs.”
The workshop is the first attempt to address common regional issues in the labor-intensive industry, according to the workshop’s organizers, the Cambodian Labor Organization and the Hong Kong-based Asian Monitor Resource Center.
About 30 representatives from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma and Thailand attended the workshop at Hotel Juliana.
Seng Phally said all five countries are working hard to integrate themselves into the world economy by transforming from agricultural-based economies into industrial, export-oriented economies. Violations of labor laws and exploitation of labor rights have been widely reported in the countries, he noted.
“We have to find out how to raise the awareness of labor rights among employers, workers and government officials,” he stressed.
Philip Robertson, country representative in Thailand for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, which is part of the labor federation AFL-CIO, addressed some of the significant obstacles posed by labor laws in the five countries.
He pointed out that there is a disparity of power and influence between employers and workers. Workers, most of whom come from the agricultural sector, lack knowledge of their rights to protect their livelihoods from employers’ exploitation, while manufacturers have power and money to influence government officials.
“The labor law needs to play a critical role in ensuring there is justice,” Robertson said.
“Strike is still the only weapon for workers to bring employers to bargaining tables….Justice is delayed or denied in the countries.”
He stressed that weakness of labor movements in the region allows manufacturers to exploit workers, while vague wording of labor laws gives employers legal loopholes to suppress labor movements and workers’ rights.
Participants are scheduled to develop joint projects to increase the power of labor movements in the region.