Labor Ministry Denies It Has Stopped Recognizing Unions

The Labor Ministry in a statement Thursday insisted that unions were still free to register as entities recognized by the government, a day after a ministry spokesman said that union registration had been effectively suspended for the foreseeable future.

Free Trade Union (FTU) president Chea Mony claimed on Wednesday that the Labor Ministry was refusing his request to register 10 new branches in the country’s garment factories.

Mr. Mony said an official at the ministry’s registration department told him last week that Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng had put a freeze on issuing union licenses.

Mr. Mony also sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen to complain.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour also said on Wednesday that unions would only be allowed to set up new branches until the government drafts and then adopts, at some time in the future, a law governing unions.

Amid criticism that the government had suspended the right of unions to form, which is protected under the constitutional right to freedom of association, the Labor Ministry issued a written denial.

“The ministry is strengthening the mechanism of registration for all organizations effectively and on time with transparency following the law,” the letter states. “Therefore, please all organizations prepare legal registration following the law.”

Mr. Sour, the ministry spokesman who initially confirmed the suspension of union registration on Wednesday, back-stepped Thursday, claiming instead that the ministry had not stopped registering unions.

“The ministry issued the statement to respond to some organizations, including to Mr. Chea Mony, who accuse the ministry of not registering their organizations,” he said. “It is not right because the ministry has never refused to register any organization if it follows the law.”

Asked why he had made contradictory statements regarding the suspension of union registration, Mr. Sour said his boss was angry with him after reading his comments in the newspaper.

Mr. Sour also declined to say whether he had spoken accurately or inaccurately on Wednesday when he confirmed suspension of union registration.

“My Excellency minister blamed me,” he said. “I just want to tell you that if I give the right comment to the media, I’m scot-free, but if I give the wrong comment my position will be killed.”

The FTU’s Mr. Mony said he did not believe Thursday’s statement from the ministry, adding that he believed the ban on union registration to still be in force.

The FTU’s 10 new branches, which have yet to be registered by the ministry, will start operating with or without the ministry’s consent, he said.

“We don’t need to submit it again because our application is already legal,” Mr. Mony said.

“According to the law, if we submit, and in two months the ministry does not register it for us, we are able to operate legally.”

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