Unions Divided, Loyal to Political Parties, Conference Told

Participants at a labor conference in Phnom Penh yesterday discussed how to bring unions closer together and reduce the fragmentation that has plagued the Cambodian labor movement, a situation that experts say is detrimental to workers’ interests.

The country now has seven national labor confederations, and around 489,000 workers nationwide belong to a union, Alonzo Suson, country program director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said at the Conference on the Labor Movement in Cambodia.

These seven confederations and the many smaller unions that fall under their purview are generally affiliated with either Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP or an opposition party, or they are independent, he said.

Mr Suson said the seven confederations, and the many smaller unions which fall under these organizations, can broadly be categorized as affiliated with either the ruling CPP party, the opposition parties or as independent unions.

In a report on the Cambodian Trade Union Movement, Mr Suson’s organization noted, “The rapid formations and splits within the Cambodian labor movement is not based on debates around strategic or ideological lines but on political party alliance, personalities and opportunism.”

Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said by telephone after the conference that these divisions among unions are undermining the collective bargaining power of Cambodian workers.

“At the conference we tried to wake up [the union leaders’] minds… [we ask] them how they can find common interests to work together.”

Mr Tola said the number of unions in Cambodia had grown from just one before 1993, to four in 1998, to an estimated 2,000 now.

According to Mr Tola, only two national confederations are not affiliated with the ruling party: the Cambodian Confederation Union, led by Rong Chhun, who is affiliated with the SRP, and the Cambodian Labour Confederation, led by Ath Thon, which is an independent union.

Mr Tola said the current division among unions over the minimum wage in the garment sector was a prime example of the lack of cooperation to promote workers’ rights.

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