Labour ministry and US union rights group sign MOU extension

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Garment workers work in a factory in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Cambodia and the US has renewed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in efforts to develop the labour sector in the Kingdom with the goal of promoting labour rights, improved working conditions and greater benefits for workers.

The MoU was signed by Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng and William Conklin, Cambodia programme director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), on July 28.

The MoU establishes a technical cooperation framework between the ministry and ACILS that will contribute to the reform and implementation of policies related to the labour sector.

“Through this framework of cooperation, we will jointly strengthen the implementation of labour-related policies to meet the objectives set out in the memorandum,” Sam Heng said.

Sam Heng also highlighted the successful instances of past cooperation between his ministry and ACILS and what they had achieved together.

He mentioned study visits to the US to discuss trade union rights and collective bargaining in the hotel and casino sector, traffic safety and Covid-19 prevention education for workers in the garment factory sector, technical assistance on amending the law on trade unions, among others.

Conklin praised the cooperative efforts between their organisations, saying that both have worked hard in the past to achieve excellent results.

“Through the renewal of this MoU, both sides show their willingness to further strengthen cooperation for the benefit of workers and contribute to the promotion of rights, working conditions and harmony in the workplace, especially in response to the situation during and after the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.

In January 2018, the ministry signed an MoU with ACILS on the implementation of policies related to the labour sector and workplace harmony for a three-year period from January 22, 2018 to January 22, 2021. This MoU is a two-year extension of the framework provided by the original agreement.

The labour ministry stated that Cambodia has strived to strengthen the implementation of better working conditions in response to the concerns of all stakeholders, including major US buyers of Cambodian-made garments, labour unions, employers and workers.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina sees the signing of the MoU between the labour ministry and ACILS as a positive development.

“ACILS has been very helpful in training union resources, both national and local, so that they have enough capacity to act on behalf of their members in resolving disputes or carrying out negotiations,” he said.

However, he noted that a number of other issues related to trade union rights and workers’ safety have yet to be addressed in Cambodia.

“Before the union law was passed, the unions could fully play their role representing the workers. After that law was passed, the role of national unions was reduced because they lost the ability and the right to represent their own members.

“This means that if there is a dispute and meditation occurs at the labour ministry, we are allowed to accompany our members but we have no right to negotiate for them,” he said.