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A broad coalition of unions and community groups stopped a regressive labor law from passage in Cambodia—and a new Solidarity Center report shows how they did it.
 
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Cambodia
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Working with Cambodian unions and other allies in all major industries, the Solidarity Center seeks to protect and advance worker rights through training and support, including legal advocacy, as workers increasingly stand up for their rights and demand living wages and decent working conditions.

Cambodian workers are increasingly standing up for their rights and demanding a living wage. Photo: IndustriALL

Cambodia re-established a constitutional government in the 1990s after decades of war and since then, its economy has since steadily improved. Between 2004 and 2011, the poverty rate dropped by more than half, and now approximately two out of 10 Cambodians are poor, compared with five out of 10 in 2004. Yet despite massive poverty reduction, Cambodia is still one of the world's poorest countries, with around one-third of people living on less than one dollar per day.

Garment-making is Cambodia’s largest industry, accounting for 80 percent of exports. More than half a million garment workers generate $5 billion annually for the Cambodian economy. Protests over an announced minimum wage for garment workers in December 2013 led to security forces shooting into crowds of striking workers, killing at least five, injuring more than 60 and resulting in the arrests and dismissals of dozens of workers and union leaders.

Some 90 percent of garment workers have no permanent contracts and are instead employed under fixed duration contracts. Insecure employment contracts increase their vulnerability to anti-union discrimination because workers fear their employers will not renew their contracts if they demand better working conditions. These contracts also prevent workers from accruing seniority and related benefits and often hamper women from returning to work after maternity leave.
 
Cambodian workers who collectively demand better working conditions are systematically exposed to unfair dismissals, intimidation, arrests and violence, often leading to serious injuries and death, according to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

In 2012-2013, Cambodia's newly formed independent labor movement, together with the Solidarity Center and non-governmental human rights organizations, provided an unprecedented legal critique of the country’s draft trade union act, bringing it in line with international labor standards and ultimately prompting the government to significantly revise terms of the legislation from one proposed by authorities in early 2011 and reintroduced in 2014. Both the Solidarity Center and the ILO have called for many of the government’s proposed provisions to be amended because they do not meet ILO Convention compliance standards.

While the Cambodian garment sector has one of the highest union density rates in the global industry, most Cambodians are not garment workers and many, including domestic workers, tuk (auto rickshaw) drivers, teachers and other civil servants, fall outside the labor laws and are prevented from joining unions and bargaining collectively.




Cambodia Garment Workers Demand Living Wage. November 19, 2014—The Cambodian government announced this week it would raise the monthly minimum wage in the textile and apparel industry to $128, an amount workers say falls far short of the amount needed to support themselves and their families and is only $8 above the poverty line.

Trial for Cambodia Garment Workers, Union Leaders, Starts Today. April 25, 2014—A trial opens today for 23 Cambodian trade union leaders and workers in Phnom Penh Municipal Court for participating in rallies in January calling on the government to increase the minimum wage for Cambodia's ready-made garment workers.

AFL-CIO Calls for End of Violence Against Cambodian Workers. January 7, 2014—In a letter to Cambodia Prime Minister H.E. Hun Sen, the AFL-CIO condemned the Cambodian government's recent and ongoing violence against garment workers.

Cambodia: Owner Admits Negligence in Factory Collapse. May 20, 2013—At least 23 garment workers were injured today when a structure the workers used for rest breaks collapsed in Cambodia.

Cambodia: Brands Could Help Garment Workers Get Better Nutrition. January 24, 2013—Among the thousands of Cambodian garment workers who have fainted on the job over the past few years, many suffer from malnutrition, anemia and dehydration.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton Meets with Cambodian Women Unionists, Defends Worker Rights. July 16, 2012—Following a private meeting in Cambodia with union leaders and labor activists, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged greater protection of worker rights, improvement of labor standards and the empowerment of women.


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