The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice without prior authorization, the right to strike, and the right to bargain collectively. While unions may affiliate freely, the law does not explicitly address their right to affiliate internationally. The law requires trade unions to file their charters and lists of their officials with the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT).
Civil servants, including teachers, judges, and military personnel, as well as household workers, do not have the right to form or join a trade union. The ILO continued to request the government to ensure the right of public employees to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Personnel in the air and maritime transportation industries are free to form unions but are not entitled to social security and pension benefits and are exempt from the limitations on work hours prescribed by the labor law.
The law stipulates workers can strike only after several requirements have been met, including: the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as negotiation, mediation, or arbitration), a secret-ballot vote of the union membership, and seven-day’s advance notice to the employer and the MOLVT. There is no law prohibiting strikes by civil servants, workers in public sectors, or workers in essential services. The law provides for the protection of strikers from reprisal. The law also provides for protections for union leaders from dismissal.
Regulations on collective bargaining grant collective bargaining rights to the union within an enterprise that has “most representative status,” or the union that represents the largest number of workers in a bargaining unit, and require employers to negotiate if such a union proposes a collective bargaining agreement. These regulations also bind both parties to agree to an orderly bargaining process, make considered and reasonable offers and counteroffers, and require the employer to provide the union with facilities to conduct union activities and all information requested by the union that is relevant to the bargaining process. The Bureau of Labor Relations is responsible for facilitating the process of union registration and certification of most representative status for unions, in cases where there are multiple unions in an enterprise. The law, however, allows third parties to raise objections to granting a union most-representative status, which could be grounds for government refusal. The ILO noted that allowing third party objections runs counter to internationally agreed labor rights related to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Enforcement of the right of association, freedom from antiunion discrimination, and collective bargaining rights was inconsistent. The government’s willingness to address violations of worker rights was sometimes limited by close relationships among government officials, employers, and union leaders, particularly those operating progovernment unions. These relationships also deterred union leaders from reporting cases of discrimination and hampered the independent operation of unions.
The government also did not devote sufficient resources to enforcement, particularly the provision of training and resources to ensure a functioning labor inspectorate. Through the first six months of the year, the Labor Inspection Department of the MOLVT issued warnings to 197 companies for violations of the labor law. Although the MOLVT often decided in favor of employees, it rarely used its legal authority to penalize employers who defied its orders. Of the 197 companies that received warnings, 29 received fines. During the first six months of the year, the MOLVT reported it received 118 cases of non-strike-related disputes and 58 cases of strike-related complaints, and its Department of Labor Disputes reportedly resolved 46 of these cases successfully. The Department of Labor Disputes sent the unresolved cases to the Arbitration Council.
Unresolved labor disputes may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. The parties may choose whether to consider the council’s decisions as binding. If neither party objects to the arbitral award within eight days of issuance, it automatically becomes binding. Individual disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent (see section 1.e.). There is no specialized labor court. Some unions urged the government to expand the role of the Arbitration Council to include individual and collective-interest disputes and to make its decisions binding. From January to June, the Arbitration Council received 162 cases, compared to 174 cases during the same period in 2014. The council reported that of the 162 cases, the council resolved 87 by ordering an arbitration award, 29 were settled by the parties before an award was ordered, 22 were closed due to lack of participation or cooperation by the parties, the Arbitration Council facilitated a settlement in eight cases, and the remaining cases were pending.
Workers reportedly experienced obstacles in exercising their right to associate freely, as some employers reportedly refused to sign the notification letters officially recognizing a union. In addition, workers in the garment sector were hired as subcontractors, making unionization difficult. The majority of unions were affiliated with the ruling party, some were affiliated with the opposition party, and some were independent. Union leaders affiliated with the government did not act independently.
Organization among public-sector workers continued to face significant obstacles. The Cambodian Independent Teachers Association is registered with the Ministry of Interior as an “association” due to prohibitions on public-sector unions, and the government denied its requests for permission to march or protest, although the union reported no direct government interference in day-to-day activities. Some members feared their affiliation with the teachers association could hamper career advancement. Another public-sector association, the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, alleged that fear of harassment, discrimination, or demotion deterred individuals from joining.
There were credible reports of antiunion harassment by employers, including the dismissal of union leaders in garment factories and other enterprises. Acts of antiunion discrimination, intimidation, and retaliation by employers almost always went unpunished. Better Factories Cambodia (BFC), an independent monitoring program for the garment and footwear sector, reported that from April 2014 to April, approximately 3 percent of the 393 factories it monitored engaged in antiunion activities. In some factories management appeared to have established or supported promanagement unions or compromised union leaders by jeopardizing their employment. Following violent labor protests in 2013, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) filed complaints in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court (PPMC) against six independent union federations, alleging the federations had incited workers to violent protests, which resulted in damage to factory property and production. The PPMC placed the union leaders under court supervision, barred them from joining or organizing any protests, and ordered them to report to the court on a monthly basis. As of September the order was still in effect.
Despite legal provisions protecting strikers from reprisals, there were credible reports of workers dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. While the majority of strikes were illegal, participating in an illegal strike was not by itself a legally acceptable reason for dismissal. In some cases employers pressured strikers to accept compensation and leave their employment. Remedies exist for such dismissals, although no remedies were viewed as effective. The MOLVT may issue reinstatement orders, but these often provoked management efforts to pressure workers into resigning in exchange for a settlement. At times management failed to obey court orders for reinstatement.
The GMAC and eight union federations continued to convene quarterly meetings to discuss implementation of a 2012 memorandum of understanding that committed factories and workers to accept the rulings of the Arbitration Council.