Labor Groups Press Ministry on New Union Registration Rules

About 100 workers representing eight trade unions and labor associations rallied in front of the Ministry of Labor on Sunday demanding that the government relax registration requirements that they say are being used to stifle efforts to increase their memberships.

The groups—mostly members of the Cambodia Labor Confederation, whose president, Ath Thorn, has been placed under court supervision for a litany of alleged crimes—claim the Labor Ministry has created new bureaucratic blockades to their expansion since nationwide strikes and demonstrations in December and January.

“We face obstacles registering our local unions,” said Rong Chhun, who led Sunday’s rally as president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions.

“Since late 2013, our registration at about 10 factories has become stuck because it is hard for our local unions to obtain the complex documentation they need to prove…clean criminal records,” he added.

A number of labor confederations have complained that the ministry’s new requirement that labor organizers prove a clean criminal record—by obtaining a letter from the Justice Ministry before registering a local union at a factory—is being used to prevent some of the country’s more militant unions from growing their ranks.

However, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng has defended the rule, claiming that the labor movement —particularly in the crucial garment sector—needs to be reined in after industrial action that temporarily crippled the industry almost a year ago.

Mr. Sam Heng and Interior Minister Sar Kheng have also promised to push through a new Trade Union Law that will further curtail the freedom to unionize and assemble in the workplace.

Speaking to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia earlier this month, Mr. Kheng estimated that there were 4,000 local unions and 90 union federations operating in the sector.

“I acknowledge that there are too many unions,” he said at the time, promising to pass the new union law despite the fact that, in its latest draft, it fails to meet Cambodia’s international obligations to protect the freedoms of workers.

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