Cambodia Fares Poorly in Worker Rights Ranking

A report released Tuesday by the US-based watchdog Freedom House gave its second-lowest ranking of “repressive” for workers’ rights in Cambodia, the country in the same category as Iran, China and Singapore.

Vietnam, Laos and Burma each received the worst of five rankings, or “very repressive,” in the report, while the Philippines did better than any other Southeast Asian nation, receiving the second-best “mostly free” score.            Although Freedom House said there was a “fairly robust legal framework” in Cambodia, the group said labor laws were only weakly enforced.

“Anti-union harassment, dismissal of union leaders and supporters and violence by vigilantes are common,” the report stated, citing the murders of at least three prominent union leaders since 2004.

Freedom House also noted that the government “appears to favor the interests of investors and employers over workers’ rights.”

Research for the report, which covers 2009, involved almost 70 analysts and academic advisers who based their evaluations on sources ranging from news reports to country visits, according to Freedom House.

Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, agreed with the Freedom House assessment yesterday, saying that “workers easily lose their job.”

Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser for the Better Factories Cambodia program at the International Labor Organization, said Cambodia had room for improvement in areas such as freedom of association.

“In a general sense, there continues to be some concerns about unions’ ability to operate,” he said.

But Mr Poutiainen cited progress made in workers’ rights during the last 10 years and cautioned that the labor movement here was still “relatively young.”

Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the report.

Separately, the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations announced yesterday that employers and union officials had jointly petitioned the government to revise the draft trade union law and establish a labor court as soon as possible. Among the recommended changes to the law was a reduction in the dispute resolution period from 45 to 21 days.

The petition came after employers and union officials recently reached an agreement that “covered collective bargaining and industrial dispute procedures, including both lock-outs and strikes,” Camfeba said in a release yesterday.


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