Workers Petition for Labor Rights on Labor Day

Workers from the food, service, and entertainment sectors participate in the gathering outside the National Assembly on International Labour Day 2023. Photo: Licadho

PHNOM PENH – Around 200 workers from different sectors gathered in front of the National Assembly’s gates to submit a petition demanding the full respect of the worker’s rights, while the government appealed to foreigners to stop funding protests in Cambodia.

As May 1, 2023, marks the 137th anniversary of International Labor Day, workers from the garment, tourism, hotel, service, and construction sectors met in front of the National Assembly under the theme “Gathering Labor Rights and Civil Rights”.

They were holding banners asking to stop discrimination against the unions, respect the worker’s rights, and provide social protection as well as labor compensation for the workers who have suffered from the closure of factories in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Some also called for the release of Naga World unionist Chhim Sithar, who’s been in jail since Nov. 26, 2022.

Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions President Yang Sophorn said the workers came to ask the National Assembly to urge the employers to respect the worker’s rights, stressing that the unionists are always being prosecuted and sacked when new unions are established in the workplace.

“There is no special protection for us but special dismissal,” Sophorn said during the gathering, adding that she regrets workers’ right to strike is not always guaranteed.

According to Labor Law, workers can only go on strike after their requests reach the Arbitration Council, a national institution entitled to resolve labor disputes.

But Sophorn pointed out that workers' complaints rarely reach the Council, which prevents them from going on strike legally.

“Workers must also stop their strike immediately if it is considered illegal by the court,” added Labor Ministry Spokesperson Heng Sour.

“That affects our rights to strike,” said Sophorn.

In front of the National Assembly, Ou Tepphallin, the president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation (CFSWF), said that employers must stop discriminating against unionists and provide appropriate wages for the workers.

In the textile, garment, footwear, and travel bag sector, Cambodia’s most structured industry, the minimum wage increased to $200 per month in 2023, compared to $194 last year.

“That is barely sufficient for workers to survive, given the fact that the price of commodities and gasoline is soaring due to the inflation stemming from the global tension and the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” said Tepphallin.

The workers also asked Cambodia to ratify the International Labor Organization conventions 183 and 189 on “Maternity Protection” and “Decent Work for Domestic Workers.”

Along with Ul Vann, president of the Cambodian Youth Network Association, Ou Tepphallin appealed to the workers to stand firm in the mission of demanding equal rights of the workers and continuing to be together to aching the goal, while submitting the petition.

The document was accepted by National Assembly officials, giving unionists and workers a glimpse of hope to see their requests move forward in the future.

While he was attending the groundbreaking ceremony for a new $1 billion container terminal at Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, in Preah Sihanouk province, Prime Minister Hun Sen said foreigners should stop funding the workers’ strikes.

He said he knew beforehand that a group of workers would gather on May 1 to submit a petition so that they would not be cut off funds.

“So, some unions in Cambodia receive funds from foreigners,” he said, without further clarification.

“What I am requesting is that please do show respect to the labor rights not only on Labor Day but all year long,” PM Hun Sen added.

He assured that the government is seeking new investment projects so that new job opportunities will be abundantly created for Cambodian workers.

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