CENTRAL Calls for Labour Rights Violations to be Addressed


CENTRAL Calls for Labour Rights Violations to be Addressed

Source: Kiri Post

In this commentary by Center of Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), the organization speaks about improving labor rights in Cambodia and the need for unions to be able to operate freely.

At least 20 prominent independent trade union coalitions, associations, and trade union support group organizations have provided a thematic report on the labor rights situation in Cambodia for the upcoming UPR pre-session in Geneva next week.

In the previous UPR cycle, countries, including the United States, Sweden, France, Belgium and Finland, made concrete recommendations on improving labor rights to the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC).

These nations called on the RGC to take all necessary measures to guarantee that the fundamental freedoms of workers are fully respected and that trade unionists are able to conduct their activities in a climate free of intimidation, threat or harm to their personal security.

In addition, these nations called on the Government to ensure that the legislative framework and labor policies enable trade unions to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

Over the last three years, there have been significant encroachments on civic space, as seen in the intensification of attacks on independent trade unions and labor organizations.

We observe that the independent union and labor movement in Cambodia is not merely under threat, but is being systematically targeted.

A recent EU commission report on Everything But Arms (EBA) identified serious systematic violations of the principles on International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPCR), notably the rights to freedom of association and freedom of assembly as outlined in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) recommendations referred violation of the ILO core conventions No. 78 on freedom of association and No. 98 on collective bargaining.

While the RGC and Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training have introduced amendments to the labor and trade union laws, these changes are largely tokenistic as they do little to address the core problematic issues with these laws nor align them with international standards.

Firstly, we face severe challenges in union registration and collective bargaining. Burdensome procedures for union registration and dues collection at factories with collective bargaining agreements are impeding freedom of association, a right protected under ILO Conventions and the ICCPR.

We observe a pattern of union applications being rejected for trivial errors, and an arduous process for Most Representative Status certification, which hinders workers’ ability to unionize.

Based on data compiled by members of this submission, at least one federation registration and 32 enterprise-level union registrations remain pending as of February 2024, some for more than a year.

Secondly, the judiciary’s obstruction in labor dispute resolution has limited access to justice. There is an emerging trend of labor disputes being miscategorized to avoid arbitration, coupled with a lack of effective and timely legal remedies for workers in national courts.

This misclassification of disputes and the current inaccessibility of the Arbitration Council for individual labor disputes is concerning. Workers experience undue delays in having their cases heard, and the lack of an independent, impartial judiciary compounds their bid for justice.

As of February 2024, we have counted at least 69 cases of unfair court decisions and misclassifications whereby these cases have not been able to reach the Arbitration Council, leaving adjudication by the national courts to be the only recourse.

Thirdly, we wish to highlight the systematic use of fixed duration contracts (FDCs) as a tool for anti-union discrimination. Guidelines from the Ministry of Labour have undermined established labor law, allowing employers to avoid transitioning workers to permanent employment status, thus weakening job security and collective bargaining rights.

Based on data collected by independent unions and federations, at least 33,923 workers from 49 factories are still employed on FDCs despite the fact that their rightful contracts should be undetermined duration contracts, with a total of recorded cases of 630 workers on FDCs who were not rehired after establishing a union.

Furthermore, restrictions on peaceful assembly and expression have been exacerbated by the implementation of Covid-19 laws, which have been used to limit protests and strikes.

This is a violation of rights enshrined in the ICCPR and the Cambodian Constitution. After NagaWorld laid off 1,329 casino workers in April 2021, workers from the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees engaged in a peaceful, well-publicized strike, the police physically assaulted and arrested striking workers under the pretext of Covid-19 regulations.

We also observe a troubling trend of criminalization and discrimination against union leaders and labor rights activists. Judicial harassment, criminal charges, and threats against union members are prevalent, creating an environment of fear and repression.

Independent unions, and workers’ interests are inadequately represented in government councils and there is an uneven development of rules and policies for workers in underrepresented sectors.

Protection mechanisms against gender-based violence remain below the necessary international standards, significantly impacting women.

Widespread abuse in sectors, such as garment manufacturing and entertainment, include discriminatory practices against pregnant workers and those with disabilities, and the targeted harassment of female union leaders.

Finally, Cambodia’s institutional and normative framework still fails to protect migrant workers. Without any governmental limit on recruitment fees, many workers incur debts to cover migration expenses. The lack of proper documentation restricts their access to justice, social security, and healthcare in host countries.

To address these challenges, the RGC must take concrete steps and action with the following recommendations:

  • Simplified union registration and Most Representative Status certification processes.
  • Properly classified labor disputes and an effective, independent Arbitration Council.
  • The revocation of ministerial guidelines that undermine the Labor Law, particularly regarding FDCs.
  • Amendments to regulations that limit peaceful assembly and the right to strike.
  • The protection of union leaders from violence, discrimination, and criminalization.
  • The inclusive representation of independent unions in wage and labor councils.
  • Clearly defined legal protections against gender-based violence at work and the ratification of ILO C190.
  • Enhanced migrant worker protections and the ratification of relevant conventions, such as ILO C181 on ethical recruitment and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

Addressing the existing human rights and labor rights concerns is an essential for the full reinstatement of the EBA trade preferences, as well preparing Cambodia to obtain US GSP scheme, which required real and credible commitment by the Cambodian Government.

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