More than 400 members of the Confederation of Unions, Trade Federation, local unions and associations working in the field of labour in Cambodia gathered in front of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training on the morning of September 11 to submit two proposals.
The first proposal was related to the labour dispute between casino operator NagaWorld Ltd and a group of its former employees who claim they were inappropriately targeted for lay-offs due to their union activism.
The group gathered at the ministry requested its intervention with the company on behalf of a total of 150 former NagaWorld employees who are union leaders and members, asking that they get their jobs back with seniority pay and other compensation according to the labour law as well as all criminal charges against 14 union activists stemming from earlier protests dropped.
The second proposal was a request for ministry intervention to bring about settlements in the cases of 31 other union leaders or activists who they say were inappropriately dismissed over their labour organizing activities, including seven from the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, 19 cases from the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), two cases from the Independent Trade Union Alliance, two cases from the Federation of Independent Trade Unions and one case from the union defending the workers' rights at MLN Team Apparel.
In response to these requests, labour ministry spokesperson Heng Sour confirmed on September 11 that all cases mentioned in the request had been resolved already by professional mediators at the department level of the ministry in accordance with the procedures for resolving labour disputes.
“Dispute mediation is based on enterprise-level negotiations in the event that negotiations are not successful. Either party can appeal to the labour minister to appoint an official to mediate the dispute. In the event of a joint labour dispute, the minister may appoint an official to mediate even without any complaint filed from either party,” he said.
However, he said that during the mediation period the workers had to suspend all strikes and the owners had to suspend all lockouts. If the case is still not resolved after mediation, the conciliation officer will send the case to the Arbitration Council if it is a joint labour dispute.
“After the Arbitration Council issues an order, if it is a non-binding order then any party that does not agree must file an objection to the Minister of Labour within eight days compulsorily, otherwise it will become a binding order. After filing an objection, either party can appeal to the court for further settlement. When a binding order is issued all parties must immediately comply with that order,” he said.
Separately, in the case of individual disputes, he stated that if the officials have completed conciliation and no settlement is reached, either party may file a complaint to the court within two months for further mediation and this time the rights clause party may appeal to the court. For an order to return to work, the labour inspector or the employer can appeal to the court.
“In all cases of labour disputes, the role of the ministry is to reconcile. The institution that issues orders after the ministry is the Arbitration Council. The institution that the parties to the dispute must appeal to after the Arbitration Council is the court," Sour said.
The ministry spokesman has instructed those working in the field of labour and professional relations to follow these procedures rather than protest or strike in the streets which causes public disorder and can threaten public safety.
Chhim Sithor, president of the Cambodian Workers' Rights Support Union of NagaWorld, said their rally at the ministry was to seek justice, especially in the NagaWorld dispute, which has dragged on for more than a year but has yet to be resolved.
“There is no solution, only violence against the strikers. So we came together in front of the Ministry of Labour to be a driving force for the enforcement of the law against companies in Cambodia, especially the labour law.
"We do not want to protest, we do not want to stand out in the streets, but we have no choice. We just want labour rights that ensure that Cambodian workers are not unfairly fired,” she said.
Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions, said the main purpose of the rally was to ask the labour ministry to intervene with companies that had closed their factories but have not yet paid workers.
“We are gathering to ask for a solution to our joint letter regarding the dismissal of union leaders and stalemate disputes in the past where the company has closed down illegally without paying its workers,” she said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Deputy Governor Mean Chanyada, who was on hand to mediate the event and keep the peace, suggested that workers and union leaders should sit down at the negotiating table peacefully and avoid street protests.
“Do not make this problem more widespread. We want a solution, which we understand must involve some debate, but all of you doing this must know it is not going to bring a solution.
“I ask you to please break up the gathering and on September 15 you can continue negotiations. If you want a solution, you have to meet and discuss things with each other, but do not put pressure on the streets, it is not good," he said.