Unions not given enough time to review new trade union law, officials say

As a Friday deadline approaches for comments to be submitted on a trade union legislation draft, union officials say they have not been given enough time to review the draft law, which they criticized as creating too much oversight of unions.

The International Labor Organization and Labor Ministry met yesterday to discuss the legislation, and a meeting between union, government and factory officials is scheduled for Thursday. Unions and employers must submit their comments by Friday.

The new trade union law, released for review in mid-June, marks the first major revision to the labor law adopted in 1997. In its current form, the draft requires unions to submit their budgets to the Labor Ministry for review and allow the government to suspend their certification if they don’t comply with this article.

“We don’t have enough time to review this in one month and a half,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation. But some problems with the law are immediately clear, such as the review of budgets, and holding unions legally responsible if strikes turn violent. He said he was concerned the law would be used to cripple union influence.

“How can we run our union if someone else come to interfere with our jobs,” he said. “This law suppresses rights and freedom of our union.”

John Ritchotte, specialist in labor administration and labor relations for the ILO, would not comment on the Friday deadline, but said the government must make the process of consultation among the government, employers and unions more clear.

“I think the problem is that the ministry has not set out any clear timelines or guidelines up until now and that’s created a lot of concerns and a lot of confusion,” he said.

Oum Mean, secretary of state of the Ministry of Labor, defended the law.

“Every law being created is beneficial for good people, not bad people,” he said.

He said the ministry hopes to get the law passed by the first quarter of next year, and rejected the unions’ assertions that they did not have enough time to review it.

“The time is not enough or enough, depends on them,” he said. “How many years do they want to take?”

Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, raised concerns that the law would further reduce the power of the unions in favor of employers. He said he feared unions could be restricted by saboteurs intent on exploiting weaknesses in the law.

“It restricts rights and interferes in the activities of unions,” he said.             Mr Chhun also said he did not understand why more time isn’t being allotted for comments on the draft law.

“If they passed this law in a hurried fashion, the law will not guarantee the rights of the union.”

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that GMAC has submitted comments on the legislation to the Ministry of Labor, but declined to comment on the contents of his submission until after the government has responded.


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