Cambodian bosses & politicians hope to get away with new labour law
After prolonged international pressure from both unions and multinational corporations, the Cambodian Parliament split on party lines to adopt a new labour law that falls far short of International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards. The governing party sided with local employers, presumably hoping that they have done enough to keep local unions pinned down and international critics silent. They wish!
I’ve written before about the wave of industrial unrest – met with violence and persecution – that ripped through the Cambodian garment industry early last year. Condemnation from global unions, international brands sourcing from the South East Asian nation, and human rights institutions forced the Government to free union leaders, raise the minimum wage (though not enough) and overhaul the country’s labour law.
Despite international scrutiny, local union pressure and the support of the Cambodian opposition, that labour law reform has fallen well short of what is needed. The version adopted makes it easier to dissolve unions and harder to form or operate them (for example introducing harsher rules on union financing), making strikes harder and excluding some workers from any protections. But at the same time it would impose only miniscule penalties on employers for unfair labour practices.
Sharan Burrow, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) General Secretary, said
“Cambodia, with the backing of a retrograde local garment industry federation, has pushed back against decent working conditions at every opportunity. If it does not reverse this course soon, the country will find itself at the margins of the global garment industry at tremendous cost to the economy which is heavily reliant on this sector.
“Major companies know the risks, to workers and to their corporate brands, of doing business on the back of worker repression, and consumers everywhere are increasingly alert to and concerned about the kind of inhuman treatment in global supply chains that this legislation means. The violence and judicial harassment perpetrated by the government against those who stand up for fundamental rights guaranteed under international law must end.”
Global unions will keep supporting their Cambodian affiliates, and keep the pressure on global brands so that examples of repression and harassment will be taken up directly with Cambodian employers and through the ILO. Essentially, the job of the trade union movement worldwide is to keep the focus on Cambodia’s workers, so that they can continue their struggle for workplace justice and against in-work poverty.
Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of international manufacturing union IndustriALL, which represents garment worker unions in Cambodia, said:
“I reiterate IndustriALL Global Union’s commitment to continue working with all of you, the ITUC, major brands, employers, and trade union rights NGOs, to ensure that the new trade union law will respect the core principles of freedom of association and collective bargaining.”