Safety Proposals Held Up Amid Labor Committee Arguing

A discussion of proposed labor rules turned into a free-wheeling social debate Thursday, as business and labor officials wrangled over working conditions in Cam­bodian factories.

The starting point of the discussion was a series of rules, drawn up by the Ministry of Labor’s health department, aimed at protecting workers’ health.

But before the discussion finished, union representatives and employers were arguing about abortion, employers’ responsibilities to workers and whether Cam­­bodia should extend the health rules to all workers.

It all took place at a meeting of the Labor Advisory Committee, a 20-member body made up of five union representatives, five business representatives and 10 government officials.

At issue were three rules drawn up by Huy Han Song, director of health at the Labor Ministry.

The first would limit female workers to carrying no more than 50 kg at one time, the second governs temperature limits for workplaces and the third involves air circulation.

The discussion never got past the first rule, as union leaders consistently sought to expand worker protections and employers fought just as hard to limit them.

Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said it makes no sense to protect just factory workers when workers of all sorts—from construction crews to domestic servants—can be asked to carry heavy weights.

And the rule should also limit the distances workers can be asked to carry heavy loads, he said, or there would be no rule preventing employers from making workers carry loads for long distances.

“Don’t make this complicated,” responded Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufac­turers Association. Employers would never ask such a thing, because it wouldn’t be efficient, he said. “This is only common sense.”

Pascal Brandt-Gagnon, representing the recently formed Cambodian Federation of Em­ploy­ers and Business Asso­ciations as a new member of the labor committee, said, “It is also in the interest of the employer to safeguard the health of employees, to minimize turnover.”

A second section of the rule involved protections for new mothers, who can take as long as three months off work after the birth of a baby. Upon returning to work, the proposed rule states, they cannot be asked to lift weights heavier than 5 kg for an additional two months.

Chea Vichea proposed those protections be extended to women who had suffered miscarriages or who had elective abortions.

That proposal was seconded by Ing Kuntheathavy, secretary of state for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and Nuon Sophal of the administration department at the Ministry of Public Works.

The employers said that while they would agree to include the word “miscarriage” in the law, they would oppose adding “abortion.”

Although several sections of the first rule were approved, the meeting ended with no final action on any of the rules.

The meeting was adjourned until Feb 5 when discussions will continue.


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