Three of the country’s largest unions on Wednesday added their voices to a global campaign urging member states of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Governing Body, which Cambodia recently joined, to not revoke the option to go on strike as a fundamental right.
The call comes ahead of an ILO meeting in Geneva later this month between governments, unions and employers on the ILO’s Convention 87, which covers the right to organize and the right to freedom of association.
Cambodia, which ratified the convention in 1999, won a rotating seat on the 56-member Governing Body in June, giving it a vote on ILO policy for the next three years.
Amid mounting concerns that employers with ILO votes want to downgrade the right to strike, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) declared Wednesday a day of action in defense of the right.
In Phnom Penh, the ITUC’s local members—the Cambodian Labor Confederation, the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, and the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions—came together to publicly announce their support.
Convention 87 has been a point of contention between unions and employers for years, leading to growing speculation that the ILO may vote to ask the International Court of Justice at The Hague to weigh in.
Cambodia’s Labor Law protects the right to strike, with conditions. But if the ILO convention is referred to the international court and gets shot down, Cambodia’s factories could use it as an excuse to take an even tougher line on local unions, warned Cambodian Labor Confederation president Ath Thorn.
“If [the convention] is canceled, it will be a tool for employers to harass workers more…. Even though Cambodian law states clearly about workers’ rights, employers can still take advantage of them,” he said.
David Welsh, country director of the U.S.-based Solidarity Center, said it was hard to predict what would come of the ILO’s meeting on the convention.
“Certainly there’s absolutely no question that all of the ILO’s jurisprudence supports the position that there is an inherent right to strike,” he said, adding that it would be disappointing if the Cambodian government failed to agree.
A spokesman for the Labor Ministry could not be reached for comment.