The Ministry of Labor has issued a circular that says workers are permitted to strike, but they are not allowed to publicly demonstrate, such as marching or other forms of protest.
Last month, hundreds of workers from four garment factories marched through the streets of Phnom Penh to complain about poor labor conditions.
The government and businessmen have complained that the workers are “troublemakers” and that the protests will discourage foreign investment..
“The employees must stay in the compound of the factory or enterprise for making demands or protesting,” the circular issued Monday said.
“At the last strike, union workers disturbed public order and threatened workers to join the demonstration,” a Ministry of Labor official said Tuesday.
But Kek Galabru, founder of local human rights group Licadho, said the ministry’s circular violates the Constitution.
“According to our Constitution, people have the right to assembly and have peaceful demonstrations,” she said. “Allowing them to strike but not go outside is only half freedom.”
Mom Ngeam, head of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia, said his organization will write a letter to the Labor Ministry protesting the circular.
“This directive puts pressure on workers,” he said. “We cannot accept it.”
Seng Phally, executive director of the Cambodian Labor Organization, said the Labor Ministry is more concerned with the rights of employers than the rights of workers.
“The ministry should check the balance between the rights of workers and employers in this circular,” he said.
Last month, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh called the demonstrations “unfortunate for Cambodia” and called the protesters “troublemakers.”
Roger Tan, secretary-general for the Garment Manufacturers Association, complained that workers were holding strikes to protest “only small things” and that Cambodia’s business climate could be adversely affected.
But Kek Galabru said Tuesday that it is the government that has not handled the recent protests by garment workers very well. Police tried to interrupt the demonstrations and workers were injured in beatings by authorities.
“It’s not good to stop people from giving their opinions,” she said. “It’s their right to ask for more salary and better conditions.”