The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and trade unions observed the 136th edition of International Labour Day on May 1 to promote labour freedom, proper working conditions, and a sustainable livelihood for workers in Cambodia.
Ahead of the celebration, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a circular urging the government working groups to observe the auspicious day themed “Peace, Health and Job Security” with civil servants, private sector workers, trade unions and employers.
Taking heed, labour minister Ith Samheng met with representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), ministries and institutions, as well as employers and trade unions on April 30.
He said the celebration was made possible because Cambodia successfully fought against Covid-19, enabling economic activities to resume.
“To continue with the spirit of International Labour Day, our ministry has laid out some goals for 2022. They include the continued improvement of working conditions, the strengthening of enforcement, and for inspection mechanisms to be more effective and transparent,” said Samheng.
He added that the ministry will also continue modernising labour inspections through information technology. It will also enhance labour dispute mechanisms to enable labour dispute resolutions and amicable results.
“The ministry will transform factories and enterprises into a happy community for workers to [enjoy] full capacity, good working conditions and high productivity,” Samheng said.
Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thon led around 500 workers to observe the day near the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district on May 1.
He said the celebration was a reminder of the “heroism” of workers around the world for “devoting their lives for labour” in the last 136 years.
“Without the struggles of workers around the world, including in Cambodia, labour rights and working conditions would have been exploited.
“We want to send a message to all workers in Cambodia that International Labour Day is a historic day and if we haven’t celebrated or taken action, it means that working conditions might not have improved, leading to a lack of human rights,” he said at the event.
On the impact of Covid-19 on the livelihood of workers in the last three years, Thon said a petition, which seeks for intervention, is being prepared by workers which will be sent to the National Assembly, Senate and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.
He said workers want the government to reduce the price of fuel and fertiliser, and intervene in the issue of laid-off workers who have yet to receive compensation from factories, as required by the law.
Participating trade unions and associations also issued a joint statement saying that Covid-19, which badly affected garment, footwear, and travel goods workers, caused them to lose their income as their contracts ended when the factories shut down.
The petition noted that union leaders and activities experienced ill-treatment, resulting in them being expelled from work, sued or suspended for expressing their opinion or organising peaceful protests.
Without naming companies or factories, the petition requested the government to urge employers to take back union leaders and activists, those whom they said were “illegally” laid off without benefits as stated in law.
They also asked the government to look into the cases brought against union members and activists by employers, with the hope of charges being dropped.
Other appeals include wage increase for construction and domestic workers and those in the handicraft sector, as well as the improvement of worker’s transportation.
On a lighter note, the petition commended the government for its efforts in preventing the spread of Covid-19.
“We can clearly see the government’s efforts … having issued a standard operating procedure [SOP] on the preparation and management of factories and enterprises in a new normal [setting] to ensure that production and work continues,” said.