Several major unions say their representatives must now seek what amounts to authorization from factory management before garment workers can form a new union or branch within the factory.
Unionists claim the Ministry of Labor now requires them to obtain a signature from a factory representative to prove that they have notified the factory of their intention to organize workers.
They say their letters of intent are going ignored by managers who are reluctant to assist their staff to form labor unions, and the new rule is being used to deliberately block unions from expanding in the wake of nationwide strikes in December and January.
The requirement for a factory signature was introduced earlier this year, around the same time the government began making unionists submit documents proving they have a clean criminal record before creating a new branch.
Kong Athit, the vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said the Ministry of Labor seemed to have reviewed several facets of the registration process since the strikes, and enforced them more strictly.
“I think it’s very hard to get the union registration now according to the new procedure introduced by the government,” he said.
“If you want to form a union, you have to notify both the ministry and the company [factory], and now you also have to get a signature from the company.”
Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, called the changes “a violation of workers’ rights.”
“It is hard for us to get signatures from the factory since they do not want us to create the union because [if we do not] it is easier for them to manage the workers,” he said.
However, Mr. Sina said that in some cases his union had found a way around obtaining factory signatures by sending letters to factories and using the postal receipts as proof they had fulfilled their responsibility to notify factories of their intention form a branch.
Other changes to the application process, he added, included the need to film the election of worker representatives and submit the video to the ministry along with their paperwork.
Som Aun, president of the government-aligned National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, said his union was not concerned about the changes, but said the Ministry of Labor should publicly clarify the new registration policy.
“Although the procedure is complicated and we have had some problems with getting criminal record checks, it is okay with us since it makes the unions obtain high standards,” he said.
Attempts to contact several Labor Ministry officials this week were unsuccessful.
However, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said last week that the ministry had an obligation to ensure worker representatives were properly screened.
Dave Welsh, country director of the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights organization, said his group had raised the unions’ concerns with the Ministry of Labor last week.
“Their position is that there have not been significant changes and there has not been a hold-up in processing applications, and we are giving them the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
Mr. Welsh said he was aware of 30 separate cases of unions being unable to set up new branches due to new administrative requirements, a development he called “worrisome.”
“The most troubling aspect of these extra requirements is the need for employer authorization,” he said.
“The relationship should be between the government and the union involved.”
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