Strikes, demonstrations rise, but unions say restrictions remain
The number of strikes and demonstrations increased significantly in 2019, according to a Labor Ministry report, but unions said the rise occurred despite ongoing repression against workers who are prevented from organizing freely.
The ministry’s annual report, published last month, said there were 75 strikes and 11 demonstrations last year, up from 45 strikes and five demonstrations in 2018.
Sixty-nine of the strikes and eight of the 11 demonstrations had been resolved by the ministry, it said.
“The ministry has continued to strengthen its committee to resolve strikes and demonstrations at all levels,” it said, noting that 3,697 officials were now tasked to handle the issue.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, noted that despite the increase, the number of strikes and demonstrations was well below levels seen before the Trade Union Law was passed in 2016.
“We used to have hundreds of cases of strikes and demonstrations. Workers could exercise their freedoms freely. But now it’s different,” Thorn said.
Part of it was the ministry only counting major strikes and demonstrations in its records, he said. He urged the ministry to treat workers fairly during disputes with their employers.
Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not respond to questions.
The Trade Union Law was enacted amid criticism that it was restricting workers’ rights, and a set of amendments passed last year failed to address unions’ concerns.
Khun Tharo, program manager at labor rights group Central, said the law made it difficult for workers and their unions to hold strikes and demonstrations.
“The freedom is very restricted. We need to give notification and vote for a representative before holding a strike or demonstration,” he said. “And we’ve seen cases where employers use the courts to harass unions and order workers to get back to work.”
Tharo acknowledged that last year “the government gave more space for demonstrations and strikes,” but the fundamental problems remained, he said.