The Council of Ministers approved the draft Trade Union Law on Friday and will send it to the National Assembly next week, according to the council’s spokesman, who defended the legislation against its many detractors in the multibillion-dollar garment sector.
The law, which would establish new rules for forming and dissolving unions, has been in the making for years, thought the government has not released a draft since mid-2014. It has drawn criticism from unions and employers alike.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said on Friday that the latest draft was the product of thorough consultation, and served everyone’s best interests.
“The draft law gives equal rights to those who want to establish unions and those who don’t want to join a trade union,” he said.
A statement released by the council said the law was “very important to ensure rights, freedom and harmonization” in industrial relations, and would attract investors to the country.
In a statement on Thursday, however, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia urged the Council of Ministers to consider changing the law, in particular a provision that states that a union can be established with a minimum of 10 people.
The association claimed the threshold was too low and would result in a “multiplicity of trade unions within an enterprise.” The statement added that union leaders should have at least a secondary education “in order to allow for effective discussion and negotiation on important issues.”
Som Aun, president of the government-aligned National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, said he had seen the latest draft of the law, and that it should prove “acceptable,” even to its previous critics.
While an earlier draft mandated that a union leader be at least 25-years-old, Mr. Aun said, the latest version lowers the age threshold to 18. And while the draft law once required union leaders to prove a clean criminal history by requesting the necessary documentation through the Justice Ministry, it now stipulates that union leaders need only produce a personal statement affirming an untarnished record, he said.
Yaing Sophorn, president of the independent Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, however, said that she and other independent union leaders still feared that the law would give their opponents new legal tools to dissolve unions.
Ms. Sophorn said she met with more than 10 other like-minded union heads in Phnom Penh on Friday and that the coalition agreed to bring out their members to petition the National Assembly next week.
“We will gather in front of the National Assembly on Monday to file a petition requesting that the lawmakers change or delete any articles that make it very fragile for the unions,” she said, adding that she did not know how many people would participate.