Draft law on unions worries labor leader

Cambodia is drafting a law to regulate trade unions and defend the interests of workers and employers, a government official said on Wednesday, but a workers’ leader said the law would interfere in unions’ business.

Relations have at times been strained over recent years between a government trying to attract foreign investment and develop a fledgling industrial sector and workers’ groups intent on supporting their members.

“We have created this law as part of the contribution to build the country as a state with rule of law,” Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Labor Ministry, told Reuters.

The law on trade unions aims “to provide for the rights of workers and employers to establish and join respective professional organizations as the basis of harmonious industrial relations,” according to a copy of the draft bill.

It would guarantee the right to collective bargaining between workers and employers, enhance industrial relations and ensure employment and national development, it states.

Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed the bill in April, Mr Mean said, adding the draft would be made public for discussion.

But Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodia Confederation of Unions, said the law would interfere with the rights of labor groups and benefit the government.

“It is a restriction,” said Mr Chhun, whose confederation is made up of about 90,000 members of the Free Trade Union and the Cambodia Independent Teachers Association.

In particular, Mr Chhun said he took issue with a requirement that unions report their financial situation to the government every year.

“The ministry will interfere a lot in unions’ work,” Mr Chhun told Reuters, saying those who donated to unions should know how their money was being spent, not the government.

A union could be suspended if it was late in submitting its financial report, he said. The bill also makes union leaders legally responsible if strikes turn violent, with punishment including possible prison terms and suspension of the union.

Mr Mean dismissed such concerns.



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