Unions Meet With Lawmakers, Raise Concerns on Draft Law

Union leaders raised their concerns with a draft law aiming to regulate their activities—including a provision that they must report their finances every year—during their first meeting with CPP lawmakers on a new bipartisan committee formed to review the controversial bill before it goes to a vote.

Some of the same union leaders met with the CNRP lawmakers on the committee on Monday. The CPP and CNRP were scheduled to hold their first joint meeting of the committee on Tuesday, but that has been delayed.

Union leader Ath Thorn attends a meeting with CPP lawmakers about a draft union law at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Union leader Ath Thorn attends a meeting with CPP lawmakers about a draft union law at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Immediately after the closed-door meeting with the unions on Tuesday, CPP lawmaker Pen Panha, who chairs the new committee, said 34 unions had joined the discussion. He declined to comment on their specific concerns but said the CPP and CNRP would debate them in full when they have their first joint meeting, rescheduled for Thursday.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan told reporters that the unions’ main concerns included a provision that would require them to provide the government with a financial report detailing their total revenues by source every year, though he defended the proposal.

“They want to delete the financial rule, but that’s a problem because terrorists can launder money from their crimes or use it in the country, so let’s wait for the discussion in the National Assembly,” he said.

Ath Thorn, who heads the largest independent union in the country and joined Tuesday’s meeting, said many of the unions fear the government will use the information in the financial reports to put undue pressure on them.

“Currently, some unions receive money from international unions, but the state asks them not to take it,” he said. “So, when they know about the money, they will think we are against the government. Then they will delete our unions from the registration list.”

CNRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who is leading the opposition’s delegation on the committee, said on Tuesday that union leaders raised their concerns about the proposed financial reports—along with more than a dozen other points—when he met with them on Monday.

“Their main concern is the law doesn’t look like it’s created to protect the workers and trade unions; it looks like it’s made to control them,” he said.

Mr. Chhay said some of their other main concerns included a burdensome registration process and threshold for going on strike—support from more than 50 percent of their members—the lack of an independent labor court to adjudicate disputes, and rules on dissolution.

“We have to study more, with experts, for other alternatives to change the articles in an appropriate way to reflect not just the laws and Constitution, but the international agreements” that Cambodia has signed up to, he said. “So we have to check on all of that.”

Employers in the country’s large garment industry, which is the primary target of the law, are not happy with the draft law, either. They were hoping that it would help cut down on the high number of unions currently representing much of the sector’s 700,000-strong workforce, but say the current proposal to let as few as 10 people form a local union would do just the opposite.

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