In the first step to establish a labor court, a labor arbitration council will be created to deal with collective work issues between the management and employees, officials of the Ministry of Labor said Sunday.
The labor dispute settlement project is aimed at empowering labor officials and court officials who handle disputes between employers and workers, which have resulted in numerous protests recently.
“The project is very important because we have so many labor disputes, and sometimes they are very violent, as it happened recently,” said Kao Borentr, deputy director-general at the ministry, referring to the riotous protest last week at the Tommy Textile factory in Phnom Penh. “We definitely need a labor court soon to handle all those disputes. This project is a start.”
Management and employees will turn to the arbitration council if a labor ministry inspector fails to reach a solution. Other details of the council, such as whether decisions issued by the council would be binding, have to be worked out.
There has been a marked increase in labor disputes in the last few years. Labor officials are often criticized for a lack of competence to intervene in disputes, sometimes leaving arguments in the hands of employers and workers, which usually lead to an even worse situation. A lack of institutions to handle specialized disputes is also part of the problem, labor advocates say.
“Cambodia’s labor law is pretty comprehensive and a good piece of law,” said Lejo Sibbel, an International Labor Organization expert. “The problem is implementation of the law. They don’t have expertise on labor dispute settlement….There’s no institution right now to deal with disputes over labor rights and over labor interests.”
Huot Chanthy, acting director of the ministry’s labor inspection department, said the low capacity of labor inspectors results from the country’s poor education system. He said there are no academic subjects in the college curriculum on industrial relations, labor law or labor management.
“We need more people trained in labor issues,” Huot Chanthy said. In Phnom Penh, less than 50 labor inspectors oversee about 200 textile and other manufacturers employing more than 100,000 workers.
The two-year project has been studied, designed and reviewed by Cambodia’s labor industry, US officials and the ILO. The three parties recently agreed to the project, which will be funded by $500,000 from the US and will be led by an expert from the ILO, Kao Borentr said. An official signing agreement will follow soon, he added.
Labor inspectors at the ministry will receive extensive training to expand their knowledge on the labor law and ILO conventions, and improve skills to mediate disputes. Ministerial regulations will be drafted and an arbitration council will be set up, Kao Borentr said. Meanwhile, court officials, including judges, will receive extensive training on domestic and international labor regulations, he said.
Chuon Mum Thal, president of the Cambodia Union Federation, said he expects the arbitration project will produce more qualified arbitrators who have specialized knowledge and skills.
“Hopefully, it will help improve working conditions,” he said.