Unions Petition Against Draft Union Law, Warn of Protests

Several trade unions representing some of the garment sector’s 700,000 workers petitioned lawmakers on Monday to make important changes to a controversial draft union law before passing it and warned of mass protests if they were ignored.

The unpopular law, which was approved by the Council of Ministers on Friday, would set new rules for forming and dissolving unions and has been criticized by both unions and garment factory owners.

Monday’s petition was signed by 18 union leaders and handed to the National Assembly’s opposition-led human rights commission.

Ath Thorn, who heads the largest independent union in the country and signed on to the petition, said their first choice was to have no union law at all.

“But now, since the government wants to have it…we want to have a good law for the unions and workers,” he added.

As of July—the last time the Labor Ministry briefed unions and employers on the law—the draft states that a union can be formed by as few as 10 people, that a union can be dissolved by 25 percent of its members, and that only a simple majority is needed to approve a strike.

Mr. Thorn said the unions backing the petition would like to see no lower limit on how many people could form a union branch at a factory, and would like the law to make it harder to dissolve a union and easier to go on strike.

However, the unions don’t know what the current draft looks like because the government has not released a full version since mid-2014.

“Lately, the government has not shown us a draft of the law, so we don’t know which articles they have changed and which articles they have kept,” Mr. Thorn said. “If the National Assembly approves it without making any changes, and makes it hard for unions and workers, we will protest against it.”

Assembly spokesman and CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun said that the draft had not yet reached parliament.

Factory owners want the threshold for forming a union to remain where it was in a previous draft of the law, at 20 percent of the employees at a given workplace.

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