Employers must bargain in good faith and union leaders have stronger protections against being fired under new regulations issued by the Ministry of Labor.
The new rules also spell out which union will represent the workers in factories with multiple unions and require employers to deduct union dues from pay envelopes if employees request it.
Labor experts say the new rules fill some loopholes in the labor law and have the strong backing of US negotiators who will decide soon whether to increase the garment quota for Cambodia.
“The Americans have made a big deal about this,” said one labor expert. “They viewed this as a very positive step,” said a second expert.
Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association, said he believes the new regulations are reasonable. “But that will depend on the maturity level of the union leaders,” he said.
During union-management discussions of the new rules, “I have seen some maturity, and I am glad of it,” Van Sou Ieng said.
Previously, the law said workers had the right to bargain, but didn’t clearly address employers’ obligations. Unions have complained that some employers simply refuse to negotiate, leaving workers little choice but to strike.
Under the new rules, employers must negotiate with “representative” unions who seek talks. The rules also say that in factories where more than one union is active, the union with the most members can represent all workers.
Workers in such cases can either ask the ministry to certify which union represents them or, in case of a dispute, can ask for a secret-ballot vote, supervised by the ministry, to settle it.
It takes six to eight weeks to legally register a union with the ministry. During that time, union activists say, some employers fire those involved in organizing the union, effectively depriving the new organization of leaders.
The new rules say that from the day a union applies to the ministry for registration, “all workers who are founding members…as well as those who voluntarily join the union during the application period,” cannot be fired without cause. The protection period extends one month after the date the union is registered.
Also, anyone who decides to run for a leadership position in a union is protected from arbitrary firing for 45 days before the election and 45 days after it, even if he or she loses the election.
Employers who fire protected workers without prior permission from a labor inspector can be fined, while the ministry must “take the utmost measures within its competence to reinstate any worker so dismissed.”
The rules say the ministry must act, regardless of whether the case is pending before a court or tribunal, and can revoke the export licenses of companies that won’t cooperate.