Draft Union Law Heads to Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers will on Friday consider approval of the controversial draft Trade Union Law, according to the council’s spokesman, its last stop before heading to the National Assembly, where it can be passed by the ruling party’s majority.

The law, which has been in the works for years, would set new rules for forming and dissolving unions and has drawn rebuke from both unions and employers in the country’s critical garment sector.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan announced the draft’s arrival at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet on his Facebook page Wednesday.

“On Friday…the Council of Ministers will hold a meeting presided over by…Hun Sen, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, to discuss the following: First, a draft Law on Unions,” he wrote.

The government has not released a copy of draft since mid-2014, when the International Labor Organization (ILO) said it fell far short of Cambodia’s treaty obligations. Among its main critiques was a provision that would require support from 20 percent of a workplace’s employees before a union could form, a threshold the ILO called “unreasonably high.”

In July, the Labor Ministry announced that it was slashing the threshold to just 10 people, but independent trade unions remain opposed to the law on several other grounds.

“One of the most critical issues with the draft is that it lets a third party file a complaint against a union leader, so an entire union can be dissolved if any of the union’s leaders is found to have done wrong in a personal capacity,” said Yaing Sophorn, president of the independent Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.

“I appeal to the government not to approve the law,” she said.

However, Som Aun, president of the pro-government National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, said the concessions the Labor Ministry made in July had made the draft palatable.

“There have been many improvements, so I can accept the last draft,” he said. “I think some other unions worry too much.”

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia initially wanted the law to help cut down on the high number of unions in the garment industry, but was appalled by the ministry’s proposal to drop the threshold for forming a union and said in September that it would be better to simply do a better job of enforcing the Labor Law’s existing rules on strikes.

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