The Global State of Workers' Rights - Cambodia


The 1993 constitution guarantees freedoms of association and assembly and allows demonstrations and strikes. The labor code promulgated in 1997, which was written with assistance from the International Labour Organization and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), upholds workers' right to establish and join unions as well as the right to strike and lockout, and bars discrimination in employment. There are more than 20 national labor organizations in Cambodia. Unions can freely associate themselves with the government or opposition groups. However, labor laws do not apply to public employees, including teachers.

Despite the fairly robust legal framework, enforcement of labor laws is weak. The government respects some worker rights because of pressure from and scrutiny by international donors, which it depends on to fund public services. Antiunion harassment, dismissal of union leaders and supporters, and violence by vigilantes are common. At least three leading officials in the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) – the largest union organization – have been murdered since 2004, and their cases remain unresolved. The heads of the Independent Teachers' Association, the Independent Civil Service Association, and the FTUWKC have all been arrested for defamation in recent years. While the right to demonstrate is provided in the constitution, groups must obtain prior government approval, and protests are limited to a maximum of 200 participants.

The government has enjoyed increasing success in attractive private investment to Cambodia, and appears to favor the interests of investors and employers over workers' rights.

For example, the government is seeking to amend labor laws to allow more permanent use of short-term contracts, which critics say would allow employers to deny workers maternity and annual leave, among other benefits. Increased use of short-term contracts might also discourage workers from joining or supporting trade unions for fear of dismissal. The government has yet to set a minimum wage as mandated by the 1997 labor code. Although Cambodian workers such as those in the garment industry, the leading manufacturing sector, are paid well compared with their peers in the region, high inflation and lack of job security have caused considerable economic hardship and spurred a number of demonstrations, strikes, and lockouts in recent years.

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