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.
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.