French citizens supporting a Paris-based NGO have sent more than 500 letters to Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng, urging the Cambodian government to create a labor court, according to ministry and union officials.
Om Mean, the ministry’s director-general for labor, said Monday that Ith Sam Heng is preparing to write a response to representatives of the French NGO Reseau Solidarite, thanking them for their interest in Cambodia’s labor situation.
“We believe that the campaign is exercising the right of freedom of expression and we are pleased to receive those letters,” Om Mean said. “But they have misunderstood the situation. Our ministry has already started working on the formation of a labor court.”
According to the ministries of Justice and Labor, the Justice Ministry drafted a labor court law and submitted it to the Council of Ministers for review late last year.
The Reseau Solidarite is a member of the Clean Clothes Campaign, a network of organizations working to improve garment industry conditions.
According to the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Clean Clothes Campaign contacted the union last August for information about Cambodian labor conditions. The union informed the group that there had been violations of freedom of association, forced overtime work and unfair dismissals, said union adviser Katja Hemmerich. It also informed the group that the government had failed to establish a labor court called for by the 1997 labor law. The French NGO then called for the campaign in its January newsletter.
Labor advocates welcomed the activism.
“In the past we had only the US who imposed the [garment export] quota and asked Cambodia to improve labor standards,” said So Chandara, the union’s streering committee member. “Now we have France to support our labor movements…I think this letter campaign is very good to urge the industry to improve the labor conditions and keep pressure on the government.”
However, a garment industry official said the campaign is unfair.
“Why do they impose such things on Cambodia which recently started its industrialization? Cambodia is different from Europe, the US and other industrialized countries,” said Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Cambodian Garment Manufacturing Association. “We’re one of the Asian countries. Labor conditions in Cambodia are better than those in other Asian countries.”
You Ottara, chief of Asean and International Affairs for the Justice Ministry, said Monday that the labor court draft calls for a panel of three judges, including an advising judge each for workers and employers.
Seng Phally, executive director for the Cambodia Labor Organization that petitioned the government to form a labor court two years ago, said the labor court should be established by now.
“There are urgent needs to solve unfair labor practices,” he said. He added that labor court judges should be required to pass standardized examinations on labor law.