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The Development of Trade Union in Cambodia

The 1993 Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia states that citizens have the right
to form and become members of trade unions, and stipulates that the organization and
operation of trade union shall be determined by law (Article 36). The constitution also gives
workers the right to strike and to engage in non-violent demonstrations (Article 37).
In 1997, Cambodia introduced a new Labor Law to cover all situations where there is
an employer-employee relation, except those involving civil servants, judges, the police and
the army, pilot, and boat captains. The relation between employer and employee are covered
by a comprehensive law that includes aspects of labor protection, freedom of association,
collective bargaining, and dispute resolution.

According to the Cambodia Constitution and the Labor Code, they have developed
trade union into three main landscape.
1. The landscape of workers rights and labor standards
a) The right of association
As mentioned earlier, the Cambodia Constitution and the Labor Code guarantee freedom of
association, and all workers can exercise this freedom. They have the right to form
professional organization of their own choosing without prior authorization, such as
association of engineers, architects and the like.
b) The right to strike
The labor code also grants workers the right to strike and participate in non-violent
demonstration but to the limit of minimum service guaranteed in all enterprise. The law also
requires that for a strike to be legal it must first exhaust the process is frequently ignores by
workers. The police are sometimes called to suppress the strike or demonstration and have
been known to use violence.
c) The right to bargain collectively
The labor code also provides for the right to bargain collectively. The main purpose of a
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is to improve the working conditions of workers
over and above the minimum labor standard established by law. Otherwise, there is no added
value for the workers to participate in the process of CBA negotiation.
d) Working conditions
- Wages and working hours
Wages in Cambodia are set by market forces, except for the salaries of civil servants, which
are set by the government. Pursuant to the Labor Code, the Ministry of Labor and Vocation
Training (MoLVT) has the right to establish minimum wages for each sector of the economic
based on recommendations by the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC). These minimum wages
do not vary regionally; workers in both Phnom Penh areas and in over provinces receive the
same minimum wage.
- Severance pay and other benefits
The labor code states that terminated workers covered by labor contracts are entitled to
severance pay proportional to both the wages and the length of the contract. The exact amount
of the severance pay is set by a collective agreement. If nothing is set in such agreement, the
severance pay is at least equal to five percent of the wages paid during the length of the
contract.
e) Social protection coverage for workers
The Law on National Social Security Fund (NSSF) was enacted on Match 7, 2007. It aims to
provide all workers in Cambodia with social security coverage related to disability, old age,
death and accidental risk at work. The main problem at this point is that a large majority of
workers are not covered by the law. This is because many of them belong to the informal
sector, including workers in the construction industry.

2. The landscape of industrial relations
The government, union, union federations and associations are key actors in the industrial
relation system in Cambodia. They have the industrial working group that was established to
have discussions at a technical and policy level on labor related issues between the
government and private sector with the participation of trade unions.
a) Dispute resolution
In addition to governing and issuing labor regulaitons, the government through the ministry of
labor has played an important role in the process of dispute resolution as a conciliator for both
individual and collective labor disputes.
b) Enforcement of labor standards
Labor inspection in another important area in industrial relations. The ministry of labor is
mandated by law with monitoring working conditions, conciliating disputes, advising for
corrective actions by the involved parties, and taking actions against non-compliance and
persistent negligence at all working places.

3. Political parties and trade unions
Political parties are very much involved in the labor movement. Political parties to some
extent also contributed to the development of unions albeit with strong political influence.
This in a way strongly identifies each major union organization with a political party in
Cambodia. For some of these political parties, unions are needed as a prop to their authority
because unions have been used to channel popular unrest and as base for party politics and
elections. Many unions with political connection often work to serve the agenda and interest
of the parties they support.

According to the union growth and expansion, there are three principle sources of
union strength structure, institution and political. The structure dimension pertains to the
economic environment in which the union thrives and operates. Since the 1980s, structure
changes in the economy have been spurred by increased globalization of trade, investment,
production and competition. Most often, these structural changes and the concomitant policy
environment greatly impact on workers and their counterparts abroad. To date, structural
changes in the global and nation economic have led to a precipitous decline in terms of
membership and political influence of unions all over the world.
The other source of union strength in institutional. The Cambodia Constitution and the
Labor Law paved the way for the growth and expansion of trade unions particularly in the
garments industry. Despite its limitation, the labor law provides the legal framework for the
exercise of workers rights and enforcement of labor standards. It also provides the
framework for the development of industrial relations in the country.
The third source of union strength is political power and influence. As pointed out
earlier, political parties have influenced strongly the formation and operation of union on
Cambodia.