The law permits private-sector workers to form and join trade unions of their own choice without prior authorization. The law also provides for the right to strike and 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 charters and lists of officials with the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training (MOLVT). The Bureau of Labor Relations is responsible for facilitating the process of union registration and certification of “most representative status” for unions, which entitles a union representing a majority of workers in a given enterprise to represent all workers in that establishment.
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. 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 law.
The law stipulates that strikes can be held only after several requirements have been met, including the failure of other methods of dispute resolution (such as negotiation, conciliation, or arbitration), a secret-ballot vote of union membership, and a seven-day 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. Legal protections are in place to guard workers from reprisal.
Regulations on collective-bargaining rights establish procedures mandating that unions demonstrate they represent workers for the purposes of collective bargaining. These regulations grant collective-bargaining rights to unions with most representative status 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 and make considered and reasonable offers and counteroffers, and require the employer to provide the union with facilities and all information requested by the union that is relevant to the bargaining process. The law also provides union leaders with additional protection from dismissal.
Unresolved labor disputes may be brought to the Arbitration Council, an independent state body that interprets labor regulations in the case of collective disputes, such as when multiple employees are dismissed. Parties may choose whether to consider decisions as binding. If neither party objects to the arbitral award within eight days of its being issued, it automatically becomes binding. Individual disputes may be brought before the courts, although the judicial system was neither impartial nor transparent.
Enforcement of the right of association and freedom from antiunion discrimination was inconsistent. Acts of union discrimination by the employer often went unpunished. Government enforcement of these rights was sometimes hampered by close relationships among government officials, employers, and union leaders. The government also did not devote sufficient resources to enforcement, including trained, experienced labor inspectors.
The government’s enforcement of collective bargaining rights was inconsistent. The MOLVT formally warned 401 companies of legal violations, fined 17 companies, and sued five others in the first 11 months of the year. Although the MOLVT often decided in favor of employees, it rarely used its legal authority to penalize employers who defied its orders. Instead, the MOLVT sent 105 cases of unresolved disputes to the Arbitration Council. 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. The Arbitration Council received 155 cases from across the country, of which approximately 67 percent were successfully resolved.
The majority of unions were affiliated with the ruling party; others were independent. Union leaders from across the political spectrum complained that the progovernment Khmer Youth Federation of Trade Unions habitually threatened and harassed workers from other unions.
Organization among public-sector workers faced significant obstacles. The Cambodian Independent Teachers Association registered as an “association” due to prohibitions on public-sector unions, and the government frequently denied its requests for permission to march and protest, although the union reported no direct government interference in day-to-day activities. Some members feared that their affiliation with the association could hamper chances of career advancement. Another public sector association, the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association, alleged that fears of harassment, discrimination, or demotion deterred individuals from joining.
The government allowed most strikes held at factories but denied worker requests to hold protest marches outside the factory area.
There were credible reports of antiunion harassment by employers, including the dismissal of union leaders in garment factories and other enterprises. Approximately 50 union leaders claimed they were dismissed or suspended without cause during the year. In some factories the management appeared to have established or supported promanagement unions, or compromised union leaders by jeopardizing their employment.
In spite of legal provisions protecting strikers from reprisals, there were credible reports that workers were dismissed on spurious grounds after organizing or participating in strikes. While most 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.
Potential remedies exist for such dismissals, although none were particularly effective. The MOLVT may issue reinstatement orders, but these often provoked management efforts to pressure workers into resigning in exchange for a settlement.