A $500,000-plus US government-funded project launched Tuesday aims to help factory workers, managers and government officials solve labor disputes before they lead to vandalism and violence.
Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said the project was the “fruit of cooperation in the past” between the ministry and the US government, which already monitors labor conditions and uses the reports to set trade quotas.
“Employers, employees and government want an effective mechanism to handle the labor problem,” he said. “This would be good to have.”
The project will employ trainers to educate union leaders and factory managers in dispute negotiation techniques and the labor code, said Hugo van Noord of the International Labor Organization, which is implementing the project. The trainers will help managers implement formal grievance procedures now missing in many factories, he said.
“We believe that solving the problem at the earliest possible opportunity is the best way,” van Noord said.
The Cambodian labor code approved in 1997 provides for appeal to an arbitration panel and a labor court if mediation by labor ministry officials fails. But neither the panel nor the court has been established, van Noord said.
The project aims to help the ministry appoint a panel to consider fairly labor and management viewpoints, he said.
It also aims to help establish the court, although that will require passing a separate law, he said.
The court would have the right to reinstate fired workers, cancel union elections or impose fines.
Labor representatives and US Embassy observers have said the ministry has been reluctant to enforce its own rulings on labor disputes. Instead, it has left matters to the courts. Workers rarely have the means to file suits.
Last month a Kompong Speu judge ordered the rehiring of several fired workers in what was believed to be the first-ever ruling to protect the freedom to unionize. The factory involved, Cambodia Apparel Industry Ltd, has appealed the ruling.
In another labor matter, Ith Sam Eng said an inter-ministerial committee will meet for the first time today to assess damage to the factory at Goldfame Enterprises International Knitters Ltd last week and to decide on further action. An illegal strike escalated into a riot during which workers stormed the factory and set fire to a warehouse.