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Cambodia’s Approved Union Law Raises Concern About Labor Rights

Cambodia could soon be getting a law local government leaders say will give workers equal rights but that Western brands fear will undermine collective bargaining.

On Friday, the country’s Council of Ministers approved a draft Trade Union Law that would establish new rules for forming and disbanding unions, The Cambodia Daily reported. The contentious law has been in work for some time, though a draft hasn’t been released since the middle of last year.

Spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, said the newly released draft had all parties’ best interests in mind.

“The draft law gives equal rights to those who want to establish unions and those who don’t want to join a trade union,” he said.

Under the proposed law, one provision stipulates that only a minimum of 10 people would be needed to start a union, which many fear would make for multiplicity of unions within one company, and the miniature groups would likely have too many different agendas and little in the way of bargaining power.

Another provision lowers the minimum mandated age of a union leader from 25 to 18 years old. Previous drafts also required leaders to prove no criminal history with official statements from the Justice Ministry, and now all a potential union leader would need to clear his or her name is a personal statement asserting a clean record.

The fear, Yaing Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, told the Daily, is that the government would have further fuel and actual legal tools to shut unions down.

The country’s Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents factory owners, said a delegation of Western brands, including Walmart, Target, Ralph Lauren, VF Corporation and PVH recently visited the country and cited concerns about the new trade union law.

“It would be chaos if it goes through like this,” GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said in a statement back in September.

Union leaders are expected to petition the National Assembly, which will receive the draft union this week, to amend any areas that make things shaky for unions.