A draft law on industrial zones would put workers’ rights in jeopardy if passed without alteration, according to a petition sent to several government ministries by nine union federations and 11 labor-related NGOs.
The draft law is designed to attract foreign investors to the garment industry and lists benefits allocated to investors and management. But there is no mention of standards for employees’ working conditions or rights to join unions, labor activists say.
“We know the government wants to draw more investment to Cambodia, but it must also protect the workers’ rights,” said An Nan, Cambodia Labor Organization legal supervisor. “If there are jobs to do but the workers don’t have rights…it will be just like life in the Khmer Rouge regime.”
The petition lists 10 points its signatories say should be included in the draft law. Demands include allowing unions to operate inside proposed industrial zones. Areas of Koh Kong, Takeo, Kampot and Kompong Speu provinces, Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province and Sihanoukville have all been mentioned as possible zones.
Activists also want adequate training for employees, promotion opportunities and enforcement of labor and social security laws. “Associations/national and international NGOs or union federations/trade unions related to the working sector have the right to communicate, ask for information and research the working conditions and Labor Law enforcement in all zones and centers in the industrial zones,” the petition said.
It was signed Jan 15 by union affiliates, including the Cambodia Union Federation and the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and NGOs such as Legal Aid of Cambodia and Oxfam Great Britain.
Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union President Chhorn Sokha said the writer of the draft law was thinking only of the interests of investors. Ministry of Commerce secretary of state Sok Siphana disagreed.
“We never banned unions from forming in the industrialized zones. The unions can form…and the labor law will be implemented,” he said, adding that the draft law could be amended by the National Assembly when it begins regular meetings.
But An Nan said workers’ rights must be stated inside the draft. “We want written words, not just verbal,” he said.