ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Watchdog cites Cambodia as “repressive” on labour
Cambodia continues to be a “repressive” environment for labour activists in 2009, despite the existence of relatively progressive legislation, according to a new report from United States-based watchdog Freedom House.
In the report, released on Tuesday in Washington, the group said Cambodia had laws in place that guaranteed labour rights, but that implementation continued to be lacking.
“Despite the fairly robust legal framework, enforcement of labour laws is weak,” the report said. “Anti-union harassment, dismissal of union leaders and supporters, and violence by vigilantes are common.”
The labour report, the first of its kind produced by Freedom House, also cited recent moves to amend Cambodia’s labour laws to allow for the increased use of short-term contracts, which it says discourage workers from supporting trade unions.
“The government has enjoyed increasing success in attractive private investment to Cambodia, and appears to favour the interests of investors and employers over workers‘ rights,” it concluded.
The report also decried the unsolved murders of union leaders including former Free Trade Union head Chea Vichea, who was gunned down outside a newspaper stand in 2004.
In Asia, Cambodia was rated alongside Afghanistan, China and Singapore as “repressive”, with Burma, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam given the lowest classification, “very repressive”.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said he agreed with the report’s main findings, especially its concerns about the use of short-term contracts.
At a Kampong Chhnang garment factory where dozens of workers fainted on the job last month, he said, workers told him they dared not stop for fear that their three-month contracts would be cancelled.
“My assessment is that if they let such a situation continue, working conditions will get worse,” he said.
Later this month, more than 60,000 garment workers plan to hold a one-week strike in response to the refusal of the Ministry of Labour and industry groups to renegotiate the sector’s newly established minimum wage. The wage was increased by US$5 to $61 per month in July, but unions are demanding that it be raised to as much as $93.
ASEAN was an important destination for foreign tourists, and Cambodia was becoming increasingly attractive for international tourists, he said.
“We will win the competition, and we need to develop the sector as much as we can,” he said.
Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok An said the government emphasizes promoting and developing tourism.
Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi said yesterday that he was unaware of Cambodia’s position on the funding, but that Thailand “stands ready to promote further bilateral cooperation with Cambodia”.
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