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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Cambodia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Cambodia, 6 June 2012, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 14,100,000
Capital: Phnom Penh

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))

Reported Violations – 2012

Injuries: 2
Arrests: 3
Imprisonments: 1
Dismissals: 97

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


Short-term contracts, subcontracting and yellow unions are the strategies most widely used to prevent or undermine organising. Civil servants remain deprived of the right to unionise. Many employers exploit the pervasive climate of impunity, harassing and dismissing trade unionists at will.


The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is gradually closing the space left for those daring to criticise its decisions. Prime Minister Hun Sen is continuing to strengthen his autocratic rule. The opposition leader has been forced to remain in exile after receiving a heavy prison sentence. At least 12 people have been imprisoned since December 2010 for exercising their right to freedom of expression, accused of defamation and misinformation.

Tens of thousands of people in urban and rural areas are being illegally and forcefully evicted from their homes to make way for development projects headed by big business or influential figures often linked to the CPP or the army. They are forced to accept derisory compensation. Many land rights activists have been arrested or attacked.

Deadly fighting broke out between Thai and Cambodian soldiers in the disputed border area near the Preah Vihear temple. The tensions were eased with the election of a new government in Thailand.

Working conditions in garment factories continue to be appalling. Around 2,000 workers (mostly women) were reported to have passed out in 12 garment factories during 2011. Several possible causes have been identified: poor nutrition (linked to the workers' poor wages), the heat, poor ventilation, excessively long working hours (many do a substantial amount of overtime, as the minimum wage is only 61 dollars a month), and poor relations between employers and workers.

Trade union rights in law

Despite constitutional guarantees, many restrictions apply to trade union rights. Workers are free to form and join trade unions under the 1997 Labour Act, however civil servants and domestic staff are excluded from the law. All union leaders must have been engaged in the occupation their union represents for at least one year, must be at least 25 years of age, must be literate and have no criminal record.

While the law recognises the right to collective bargaining and obliges employers to bargain, the authorities are entitled to refuse to grant most representative status to a union when the Labour Advisory Committee, the employer or concerned third parties object to the union's petition. The free exercise of trade union activities is further undermined by the fact that each workplace with over eight employees must have a workplace representative, who is given the task of performing functions that should be in the hands of elected union representatives – who lack similar enforceable rights.

Furthermore, all industrial disputes are subjected to cumbersome dispute resolution procedures. A minimum service is imposed in all enterprises, regardless of whether they are public utilities or not, and regardless of whether the minimum service exceeds the need to comply with statutory safety requirements.

In 2011, the government, with the assistance of the International Labour Organization, worked to amend the Trade Union law. Trade unionists expressed concern with the draft amended law, though the government did respond to some of these criticisms during the year.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Short term contracts becoming widespread and weakening trade unions: Many permanent contracts are being replaced by short-term contracts (one to six months) allowing employers to avoid having to respect a range of workers' rights guaranteed under the labour legislation (annual leave, maternity leave, etc.). Furthermore, workers are reluctant to join unions for fear of not having their contract renewed.

Still no labour courts:

Labour courts have still not been set up, despite being provided for in the Cambodian Labour Law (1997). Any legal action has therefore to be taken before a civil or criminal court, which is often a lengthy process (up to eight years in some cases).

The Arbitration Council, a tripartite body created under the labour legislation, has effectively taken the place of labour courts. It is widely respected for its even-handed and impartial investigations and rulings, but employers found to have engaged in anti-union discrimination usually appeal against the Council's decisions in the provincial courts. Moreover, employers often choose not to apply the Council's recommendations.

An agreement was signed in 2010 between six major union confederations and federations and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC). It stipulates that in the absence of a collective agreement at a company, the parties shall accept the binding recommendations of the Arbitration Council in rights disputes, and where there is a collective agreement, any dispute regarding its application shall also be the object of binding arbitration. The agreement came into force on 1 January 2011.

One hundred and sixty six of the 191 cases handled by the Arbitration Council in 2011 involved the garment sector. Twenty seven percent of the Council's decisions were not implemented, including at least eight ordering employers to reinstate unfairly dismissed union leaders.

Subcontractors fiercely opposed to unionisation: According to the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), over half of all garment factories are subcontractors working for export manufacturers. Most of these subcontractors are fiercely opposed to the formation of unions and do not respect the labour legislation. Some of these factories use child labour.

Yellow unions: The establishment of yellow unions is another tactic widely deployed by companies to prevent the emergence of genuine worker representation. These yellow unions or unions close to the government have no difficulty registering their organisations, unlike independent unions. The latter often have to wait over a year to be registered whilst yellow unions are registered within a day or two. Workers are often placed under heavy pressure to join yellow unions.

Labour relations undermined by corruption:

Branch union representatives are occasionally offered large sums of money to join the ranks of a yellow union during labour disputes, as seen during the Cambrew strike (see violations section). In some instances, when workers whose union rights have been violated receive a favourable ruling from the Arbitration Council, such as reinstatement following an unfair dismissal, they are offered money to renounce these rights. Huey Chen is one of the companies that deployed this tactic in 2011 (see violations section).

Several sources report that regular and non-official payments are made by Ministry representatives to the leaders of yellow unions or unions close to the government. Although it is difficult to independently verify this information, these alleged payments may go some way towards explaining the proliferation in the number of trade union federations in Cambodia, which is weakening the quality of worker representation.

No civil service unions: Civil servants do not have the right to unionise. Teachers, for example, are only represented by an "association" that cannot engage in collective bargaining. The ILO has criticised this ban on many occasions. Associations such as the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), the National Educators' Association for Development (NEAD) or Cambodia's Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA) have very limited scope for action.

Migrant domestic workers suffer serious abuse: According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 40,000 to 50,000 Cambodian women and girls have been recruited to work as domestic labour in Malaysia since 2008. Recruitment agents often forge identity documents for children, offer cash and food as "loans", leaving migrants heavily indebted, and keep recruits in training centres in Cambodia for months on end. Those trying to escape face various forms of intimidation. Access to health care and nutrition are appalling in most of these centres. HRW also reports that three women recruits died while confined in such centres during 2011 and that the authorities failed to conduct thorough investigations into their deaths or to hold anyone accountable. In October, the government did, however, announce a provisional ban on sending domestic workers to Malaysia.


Union representative at United Apparel dismissed and beaten: On 5 March, three days after being notified that the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) was planning to hold union elections at its Khan Dongkor factory (Phnom Penh), clothing manufacturer United Apparel Garment fired the C.CAWDU representative, Hun Narin, on the pretext that he lacked efficiency. On 21 June, the Arbitration Council ruled that he should be reinstated (or dismissed and paid the compensation established by law). When he went to the factory two days later with the Council's decision, he was beaten by security guards. He had still not been reinstated at the end of the year.

Authorities deny permit to celebrate International Women's Day: On 7 March, the authorities refused to deliver a permit for a public gathering due to be held in Phnom Penh to celebrate International Women's Day on 8 March. No grounds were given for the refusal. The gathering had been organised by a trade union platform, the Cambodian Women's Movement Organisation (CWMO), and the Minister of Women's Affairs was scheduled to speak at the event. March 8 is a public holiday in Cambodia.

A bleak year for workers at Lim Heang Yu:

The Kompong Speu branch of the Lim Heang Yu confectionary company violated trade union rights during most of 2011. On 9 March, it dismissed Meung Sarom, a worker who had been actively involved in forming a branch of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF).

The management then waged a campaign of intimidation against the workers who took part in union elections, pressing them to renounce their membership. They were made to sign fixed-term contracts to replace their permanent contracts (some workers cannot read and others were not allowed to read the contract, which they signed by affixing a fingerprint). The branch union's general secretary, Keo Seur, signed a document on 14 June, having being told by the management that it was needed to pay his wage; it was, in fact, a letter of resignation, and he was forced to leave the factory. Nine other workers found themselves in the same position. The president of the branch, Chen Mean, resigned on 10 November after suffering sustained acts of intimidation in the workplace because of his union involvement.

ILO renews call to end trade union rights violations at Angkor Wat: In March, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) dealt with a complaint by Building and Wood Workers' International regarding the trade union rights violations at the Angkor Wat site (see 2008 and 2010 editions of the Annual Survey). The CFA called on the government to take measures to ensure that APSARA (a body set up by the government to protect the environment around Angkor Wat) and the Angkor golf complex engage in bona fide negotiations with their respective unions. It also urged the government to ensure that members of the union at JASA (the Japan-APSARA team for safeguarding Angkor), be allowed to freely elect their representatives without fear of dismissal or reprisals. The authorities have ignored similar CFA recommendations in the past.

Union bashing at Huey Chen: On 19 June, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) formed a union at the Huey Chen garment factory in Phnom Penh. The management took a range of retaliatory measures, such as the transfer of sections of the factory with a large proportion of members to a far-off location, and the dismissal of four members opposing the transfer, including the union's president, Nim Savouen, and secretary, Va Kunthea. The members were reinstated in October following the intervention of the Arbitration Council, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and Puma (one of the buyers), but then found themselves faced with wage discrimination. The management is still refusing any form of dialogue with the C.CAWDU and is pressing workers to join a yellow union.

Sous Chantha convicted without evidence then released: Sous Chantha, the head of the union affiliated to the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) at the United Apparel Garment factory in Sen Sok Khan was condemned to 10 months in jail on 24 June on drugs charges. He had been arrested in 2010 (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey). The lack of any genuine evidence during the trial exposed the fact that he had been framed, in retaliation for his switch in union affiliation (his union was previously affiliated to a federation close to the employers). He was released on the day of the verdict, having been detained in custody whilst awaiting trial.

Two hotels in Siem Reap wage all-out attack on unions:

On 4 July, the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers' Federation (CTSWF) formed unions at two five star establishments in Siem Reap, Angkor Village Hotel and Angkor Village Botanical Resort Hotel. Between 25 July and 6 August, 67 of the 90 employees at the two hotels were unfairly dismissed by the owners, Olivier Piot, a French national, and Tep Vattho, a Cambodian who also holds a French passport. On 30 August and 26 October, the Arbitration Council and the provincial court of Siem Reap ordered that the dismissed workers be reinstated, but the management refused to comply with the rulings. On 23 November, Morm Rithy, vice president of the CTSWF and Ron Ravan, another CTSWF representative, were arrested by police during a peaceful demonstration in front of Angkor Village Hotel (which had been prohibited by legal order). Morm Rithy was released that night and Ron Ravan the following day.

On 14 December, the same judge at the Siem Reap court issued a verdict overturning his ruling of 26 October. This new verdict legalising the employees' mass dismissal was not based on any new evidence but was the result of the political influence used by the hotel owners. The hotels also contacted the dismissed workers (including by sending police officers to their homes), proposing them a sum of money in exchange for their resignation.

Anti-union discrimination at Cambrew:

In July/August, the Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF) organised a strike by beer promotion workers employed by brewing firm Cambrew Ltd., which is 50% owned by Carlsberg, to press the company to respect the legislation on the payment of overtime worked on days off. The workers were threatened with dismissal during the strike. The president of the union was offered a large sum of money and a supervisory post if she agreed to join a yellow union. The CFSWF reports that 21 of the women who had taken part in the strike were sanctioned following the action: they were transferred to other establishments where they were not able to sell as much beer (implying a considerable fall in their income) and faced a range of discriminatory measures, such as being taken to the workplace in a different vehicle to those who did not take part in the strike. Five of them accepted money from Cambrew to leave the company.

Cambrew refuses to negotiate with the CFSWF. The brewery deals with a yellow union whose representatives are employed as beer promotion worker supervisors.

CINTRI continues to block unionisation: CINTRI, a waste collection firm in Phnom Penh owned by the Canadian group CINTEC, continued with the campaign started in 2010 to suppress employees' attempts to form an independent union (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey). In August, the Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF) notified the management that the workers had elected trade union representatives. These representatives were called in by the management and pressured into signing a letter renouncing their posts in the union. As a result, the Labour Ministry refused to register the organisation. Workers supporting the formation of a CFSWF-affiliated union were warned that they would lose their jobs if they persisted.

Union leader at Generation International suffers another violent assault: On 17 October, Phao Sak, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) at the International Generation Co. footwear factory in Trapeang Ample Village (Samrong Torng district, Kampong Speu province) was assaulted at work by another employee close to the management. The beating was so severe that he lost consciousness and medical care was needed to treat his wounds. According to the FTUWKC, the assault was the result of a disagreement in collective bargaining negotiations headed by Phao Sak. The union representative had already been very seriously injured in an assault by two unknown individuals in 2010, also against the background of tough collective bargaining negotiations (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey). The FTUWKC reports that International Generation produces for major brands such as Brantano, André, Caravelle and Emilia Lucax.

Kampot Cement and KC Gecin persist with union busting operations:

On 28 October, the provincial court of Kampot ordered the reinstatement of Chhun Peou and Tep Mao, two Kampot Cement employees fired shortly after being elected president and treasurer of a branch of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union of Cambodia, BWTUC (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey). Kampot Cement refused to accept the verdict and went to appeal. It dismissed a number of other BWTUC supporters during 2011 and is refusing all dialogue with the union.

Another company from the construction sector, KC Gecin Enterprises, managed to complete its destruction of the BWTUC branch union set up in 2010 (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey), dismissing all the members still employed by the construction firm.

Cambo Handsome scales up anti-union operations:

On 25 November, Van Rin, president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation (WFTU) at the Cambo Handsome Ltd garment factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, found a T-shirt that did not belong to him in the storage compartment of his motorbike parked in the factory grounds. On notifying the security guard, the latter called the management, which alerted the police, and Van Rin was arrested and detained under humiliating conditions. Hundreds of workers went on strike, demonstrating to call for his release. Van Rin was released after two days but his employment contract was suspended. Two other trade union representatives at Cambo Handsome were also suspended: Wy Davy, vice president of the WFTU, and Wy Davuth, vice president of the Cambodian Labour Union (CLU) at the factory. The company also presented them with a demand for the payment of 13,000 dollars in damages for instigating the strike action.

The WFTU reports that Cambo Handsome had already suspended then fired two of its union leaders in February, and that its representatives are often harassed at the company. The factory produces clothing for Gap, JC Penny and Old Navy.

ILO calls to order Cambodian justice system:

In November, following a complaint by the ITUC, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) renewed its appeal to the Cambodian government to immediately conduct an in-depth and independent inquiry into the murders of trade union leaders Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy (see 2010 and 2011 editions of the Annual Survey). It also demanded that the government ensure that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who had been falsely accused of murdering Chea Vichea, then imprisoned and later released, be cleared of the charges against them and given back their bail money. The CFA's list of recommendations also included a renewed call for the government to open independent judicial inquiries into the physical assaults on 13 trade unionists.

It should also be noted that, in March, the Supreme Court ordered the release on bail of Thach Saveth, who had been condemned to 15 years in jail in 2005 for the murder of Ros Sovannareth, by a trial as blatantly unfair as that of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.

Screening of documentary on murder of Chea Vichea still banned: As in 2010, the authorities banned, on at least three occasions, the screening in Phnom Penh of the documentary "Who Killed Chea Vichea?" (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey), on the killing of the trade union leader in 2004. The documentary raises awkward questions for the government, underlining that the murder would not have been possible without the knowledge of senior figures in the political establishment.

Seventy one workers still not reinstated after taking part in national strike in September 2010:

Of the 817 employees dismissed or suspended for taking part in the nationwide strike of September 2010, which mobilised 200,000 workers (see 2011 edition of the Annual Survey), 71 workers from 11 factories still have not been allowed to return to their posts, despite calls from the government and a court of justice to reinstate them.

Some factories agreed to reinstate the dismissed workers, but have not respected their obligation to pay the salaries owed since the end of the strike.

E-Garment reneges on pledge: The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) reports that, despite the pledges made by the management in 2009 and 2011, the E-Garment factory in Kandal province has still not reinstated 41 employees dismissed between 2007 and 2010 on account of their trade union activities. The C.CAWDU also denounced the pressure placed on workers at the factory to stop them from joining the union.

Assorted anti-union intimidation:

Several other cases of anti-union intimidation were reported during the course of 2011. One such case involved the Kennetex garment factory, which, according to a complaint filed by the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) with the Arbitration Council, intimidated workers wanting to join its union and fired two workers standing for union leadership posts at the factory.

The Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia reported that the M&V garment factory hounded workers wanting to join its union. The company refused to renew the short-term contracts of around 400 workers who showed support for the FTUWKC. Most of them were then re-offered employment if they promised not to join this union.

On 3 October, the Taiwanese garment factory Meroson Cambodia Co Ltd in the Dangkor district, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, fired three workers who had been elected as representatives of the union affiliated to the Cambodian National Confederation for Labourers Protection (CNCLP). After a two-day strike, the workers managed to secure their reinstatement. The Cambodian Union Federation (CUF) also reported that three of its trade union representatives had been dismissed in October.

In December, the Union Federation for Labour Rights (UFLR) likewise reported that its representative, Sin Vanhong, was fired from the Shinglecom Cambodia garment factory shortly after forming a union there.

Threats against Phnom Penh Hotel workers showing interest in trade union activities were also reported by the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers' Federation (CTSWF).

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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