Cambodia Labor Union

Cambodia, a developing country in Southeast Asia, is now trying to modernize and develop itself to become a developed country. A lot of factories have been established; people from the countryside migrate to the city hoping to have a higher salary and a better living condition. However, their salary is not as high as their expectation. Their working condition and their rights are abused by the employers. Hence, in 2006, those labors consolidated and formed a ‘Labor Confederation,’ anticipating that it would open more opportunities for them to negotiate with their employers to demand for higher wages and suitable working conditions. However, even after the creation of Cambodian Labor Confederation, the labors’ rights are still abused [1]. Strengthening the labor’s rights and making the labor’s voice being heard by compelling the implementation of labor’ laws through establishment of effective and transparent labor union are what Cambodia should do to end the clashes between the employees, employers, and government.

Before going in depth about Cambodia labor union, we should know about the history of union in Cambodia first. After the civil war, in 1993, Cambodian government enacted some constitutional laws regarding to unions. In article 36, it states that Cambodian citizens have the right to form and become a member of a union. The union needs to be recognized and legalized by the law. For other constitutional laws about unions, it provides the protection of rights, equality of salary in the same job, education for children, recognition of the children’s rights, and abolishment of the discrimination against women. In 1997, the constitutional laws recreated the laws again and this time, they provided more precise regulations regarding to the right to strike which is connected to the collective bargaining process and the conflict resolution. Despite the fact that trade unions or labor unions were created to be an independent union, it was somehow used as the prop of the political parties. Until 1999 that Cambodia made the Cambodia-US bilateral trade agreement improving the trade unions’ condition in the country [2]. Nowadays, there is an independent confederation establishing to support labor unions in Cambodia and that confederation is Cambodian Labor Confederation. Cambodian Labor Confederation was authorized by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training on April 9th, 2016. There are currently 101,278 members in CLC. However, only two unions and six federations have been engaged in CLC. Those two unions are Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU) and Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC).  Cambodian Tourist Service-Workers Federation (CTSWF), Farmers Association of Peace and Development (FAPD), Cambodian Industry worker federation (CIWF), Cambodian Agriculture worker federation (CAWF), Cambodian Transportation worker federation (CTWF), and Cambodian Informal Economic Worker Association (CIWA) are the six associations participating in CLC. The missions of CLC are to create a powerful and united union in Cambodia, enhance democracy in the country, increase knowledge in the field of social economics, support the employers and the government, and boost the equality between men and women. Besides its missions, its aims are to strengthen the relationship between the governments, employers, and those who work in the federation, enhance the employees and employers’ knowledge of human right, labor law, democracy, and others, enforce all regulations regarding to the human right, labor law, and democracy, support the members and their family legally, control the national budget and loan effectively. The objectives of CLC are to enhance the ability and knowledge of association, unions and federation leaders through being concretely united, raising more members in each sector of the federation, having more women engaging in the federation, authorizing the power of negotiations and influence on the country, contributing payments, making labors working in a better condition, and becoming the international and national representative. After knowing the brief history of CLC, one should know its system. There are only two systems existing in CLC. The first one is the Bureau of Administrative Service which is divided into other sub categories, Finance, Administration, and Management. The second one is Executive Department which consists of Establishing Department (forming federation, union, and new confederation), Legal Services Department, Educational Department, Youth Department, Gender Department, and International Relation Department. This federation can survive because it has the supporters which are CNV International, ACV, Oxfam Solidarity Belgium, and WSM [1]. All in all, Cambodian Labor Confederation was legalized on 9th April, 2006 along with two unions and six associations. It has its precise goals, missions, and objectives which enable the confederation to stand for a long time.

Even though, CLC was created in pursue of finding the labor’s better working condition and standard of living, some employers and governments are against it because the workers usually use CLC to take advantages over the governments or employers. First of all, as the employees know that they are united and powerful, they always demand for high wages; they use all means leading to the chaotic situation in the country. Employees always demand for the maximum wages while employers always want to give their employees minimum wages; as the result, the clashes between the two parties always occur. A lot of strikes and protests conducted by the workers in order to demand for higher wages and better working condition make a country fall into a state of anarchy. They do not really use diplomacy to negotiate with the government; all they do are using forces. For example, in December 2013, the garment worker protested for higher wages. They wanted their salary to be $160. However, the government decided to raise their salary only from $80 to approximately $100 per month. They did not satisfy with what they had got; they kept protest again and again to pressure the government. They conducted a strike disrupting other people in the country and making them live in fear [3]. Moreover, the workers tended to use politics to pressure the government, making the situation became even worse. After the election in 2014, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lost the election to Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) and they did not accept the result; hence, they called for the new election. However, the government turned down their offer. Since CNRP was popular among the labors in the country, the strike somehow put a lot of pressure on the government. In addition, during the strike, not only the labors who conducted it, but also the monks and other people were involved making the country fell into anarchy. The workers and the military force faced each other; consequently, the soldiers used force to control the situation. The situation got worse and the people in the country thought the civil war would occur [4]. Furthermore, the workers always take advantages of using their right to strike to pressure the government. Rather than using a peaceful strike, they tend to use violent strike which according to Section IV, Article 336, it is considered as illegal, “Illegal strikes are those that do not comply with the procedures set out in this Chapter. Non-peaceful strikes are also illegal [3].” During the strike in 2014, the workers threw stone and iron objects to destroy their factory; this is considered as illegal [4]. Besides destroying the factories or companies’ property, they also threatened or persuaded bystander workers to stop working; hence, the governments had no choice, but to make a country become stable through stopping the protests [5]. Therefore, Cambodia should not have labor union because labor union put the country into a disorder and declining the economic condition. Secondly, creating union can aggravate the economics condition in the country. As labor workers conducted the strikes in the country to demand for higher wages and better working condition, it threatened the foreign investment in Cambodia; as the result, the foreign direct investment declined last year. In 2014, the foreign direct investment in the country was 1.73 billion dollars; however, after the 2014 strike, in 2015, the foreign direct invest decreased to only 1.701 billion dollars [6]. In addition to the strike, demand for higher wages and better working condition, some companies are closed. The employers move their business to other countries since that country’s minimum wage is lower than that of Cambodia. For example, because of the strike, some companies or factories who used to invest in Cambodia move to Bangladesh since that country provides cheaper labor wages [7]. Therefore, creating a union which its members keep protesting to demand for higher wages can exacerbate the economic condition in the country. Last but not least, creating labor unions disrupts the working environment of the labor as well as increases the amount of expenses to them. If other new effective unions are to be created by the labors, the members will have to pay the union cost monthly to keep the union operate effectively in case they do not get enough sponsors from other organizations. Hence, they will have to separate another part of their salary spending on the union. For example, in the United States, the labor union member needs to pay $50 per month to the union in order to keep it work [8]. Hence, if Cambodian labors create other legalized unions, they will have to pay for it as well in order for the unions to work well. Moreover, in order to create a union, first the labors need to agree upon what they want to deal with the employers. It is in the stage of bargaining unit.  However, since the workers in Cambodia are really ambitious, stern, and greedy, they will ask for more and use all means to achieve that. Therefore, before reaching the agreement, there will be some clashes between the employees and employers. Furthermore, normally, when what they get does not meet their demand, the employees in Cambodia always create a strike or protests which disrupt the working environment. Those who want to work are not able to work because of those activity; those who are not the labor workers feel intimidated because those workers block their way to work [9]. All in all, union in Cambodia should not be enhanced, because even unions in Cambodia are small now, yet they still cause a lot of problems. Strike and protects occur according to the labor’s wish which makes a country fall into disorder. The economics of the country; furthermore, also declines. Therefore, rather than forming unions, labor workers in Cambodia should just make a clear and precise contract with their employers before working in the company or factory. By doing so, both parties can make an agreement and settle down everything before starting to work so all chaotic activities will not happen. The problems of the employees and employers will become an individual problem which can be solved between the two without interrupting the other people.

Despite the fact that labor union may lead a country into chaos, its existence and function are undeniably significant because it can ensure conflict-resolution at all levels from employee to employers and government.  Analyzing the protests and strike case, we can say that it is not the labors’ fault, because before conducting the strikes, they had already talked to their employers, yet their employers seemed to ignore them. For the government, according to Chea Ouddom, a representative of the Cambodian Union for Movement of Workers in Svay Reang, said that The authorities didn’t play a role in facilitating the issue but instead threatened the protesters and used firefighter trucks’ water cannons to get them to disperse. [10]Moreover, even before the strike occurred, the labors already sent the proposal to the ministry of labor stating the reasons why they strike and exposing when they would have a strike, according to the labor law Chapter XIII, Section II [3].Therefore, we can say that the workers had done the strike in the legitimate way already. Furthermore, observing through the reasons behind the strike is that the labor conducted those kinds of activities they wanted to double their salary from $80 to $160. Raising the labor’s wages to approximately only $100 per month is not adequate for the labor to support themselves and their family. According to Living Wage Survey for Cambodia’s Garment industry, the minimum wages for the workers was at least $90 per month in 2009[11]; hence, giving the employees $100 per month was not enough for them; they could only use their salary for themselves and they could not save up.  All of the money that they get is only used to sustain the living expense since it getting more expensive; they could not save up to help their family and improve their economics condition. Therefore, the reasons the strike were because the employers and the governments did not really pay attention and solve the problems for the workers effectively, as well as, because salary that the labors got from their employers were not suitable for their living. Hence, if the more unions are created, they will be able to provide a peaceful negotiation with the employees and government to increase the minimum wages for the employees or workers. In addition to the decline in economics, rather than aggravating it, the unions actually help improve the economics. Considering the employees’ willingness to work, once the employees can increase their wages or make more money, their productivity will be increased as well. People work more effectively with their job if they like it. According to a survey conducted by the American Compensation Association and the American Productivity Center, it shows almost 90% of the company using money to attract the employees can enhance their productivity and effectiveness [12]. Therefore, since one of the main goals of unions is to increase the labor’ wages, it will make the employers and governments raise the labor’ wages. If the people can have suitable salary, they will be satisfied with their job; hence, they will work effectively, leading to the increase in the gain of productivity in the companies or factories. If the productivity is increased, the company will be able to get more profit as well since the input is the same, while the output is greater than before. Furthermore, in the business world, the employees are actually both the external customers and internal customers. In term of external customers, the employees are the ones who buy the products. If they have adequate money, they will buy our products, but if they do not have enough money, they will not buy anything or even if they do, they only purchase a small amount of highly necessary products to fulfill their basic needs. In term of internal customers, the employees are the ones who keep customers buying more products. If they are satisfied with their job, they will be happy to treat the customers. By doing so, we can keep a lot of loyal customers [13]. Hence, economics in Cambodia can be increased if an effective union is created and it can appeal to the government to increase the amount of wages for the employees because the employees are the customers who buy the products as well. If the employees have more money, they will work well and purchase more products; therefore, the economic in Country will come near the equilibrium point meaning the supply and demand will be equal. Furthermore, pondering about the disrupting activities cause by the employees, it is not actually caused by the government. For instance, during the protest in December 2013, because of being desperate to crackdown the strike in Veng Sreng Boulevard, the police used tear gas, raffle, iron bars and other things. They beat up the crowd and shot them. As the result, a woman was killed and several people were injured. Due to this reason, some labor desired to strike for their demand were reduced, while some labors’ desire were burned and increased exponentially since they got angry with the police[13]. Therefore, the tension between the police and the employees were exacerbated, leading to the state of disorder and all people who work in that area were disrupted and felt insecure. Moreover, the real effective and independent union in Cambodia should be formed indeed. The way that the unions in Cambodia are operated is not as effective as those of the others countries. The unions have limited power to fight for employees in pursue of guarantee their working conditions and standard of living. They actually stay under the government or employer’s pressure. To start off, even though, the unions are created, the government and employers can still abuse the employees’ rights and their working condition is not in a sanitary environment. For instance, on April 8th, 2014, after forming the protest against the discrimination of the company toward the union members, Chhun Pov and Tep Mao, Banjamat employees and BWTUC leaders, got fired. This kind of action is contrast from the labor law written in the constitution [8]. According to Section 3, Article 333, it illustrates that The employer is prohibited from imposing any sanction on a worker because of his participation in a strike. Such sanction shall be nullified and the employer shall be punishable by a fine in the amount set in Article 369 of Chapter XVI;” [3] however, in this condition, the employers were not punished, yet they used their power to fire their employees and discouraged other people to make a protest. In addition to this, another strike happened again in 2014 in Phnom Penh along Veng Sreng Boulevard. The strike happened because the government did not agree upon the labors’ appeal of raising their wages. The government tended to neglect their demand and had no will to negotiate with them. Consequently, the strike broke and the government used military force to control the situation. Five labors were shot to dead, while other people were injured physically and emotionally. This kind of action is contradicted to the labor law. Written in article 36 in Cambodia’s constitute, the labors have the right to strike [3], but in this scenario, the right to strike of the labor is abused by the government. Mr. Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organization, and Mrs. Ny Charkrya, chief investigator at rights group Adhoc, even called this kind of action as the murder rather than the clashes between the government and the labors [14].  Moreover, as reported by the Diplomat, it demonstrates that a lot of female garment workers often faint, because they are working overtime under the unhealthy environment [2]. Therefore, the unions in Cambodia should be created in pursue of the employees to appeal for their rights. Furthermore, the unions in Cambodia should be reconstructed systematically and formally and the regulation enacted in the unions must be approved and recognized by the government, so that the workers’ right will not be violated by the employees again. Not only that the governments should know the regulations, but also the labors, themselves, need to know it, so whenever they appeal to the government, they can do it in constitutional procedure that the governments cannot claim that they violate the law or cannot claim that the labors are wrong. According to Cambodia Daily published in March 13th, 2015, the labor’s rights have been abused. The labors are forced to work overtime, sign short contract, and have shadowy-sub contract. The company or factories have the systematic unions bushing which they prevent workers from exercise their right and they neglect the labors’ law as well as the ILO legislations. Furthermore, the pregnant women are unreasonably dismissed, which is contradicted to the labor law in Section 2, Article 7 “The leave granted to a female worker during pregnancy and delivery, as well as for any post-natal illness. [15][3] Not only that the legislation regarding to pregnancy is violated, but the child labors’ laws are also violated. Even though, the laws regarding to child labor was reenacted and states that the minimum age to work is 15 [3], it fails to completely protect the children and there are still some inactive part which the government should reconsider making it again. The laws state that those children cannot work in hazardous environment which disrupt their study. However, in reality, those children work under dangerous environment. They work as the labors in the constructing company by carrying the cement and the brink and it is really dangerous considered about their age and their energy. The factories do not accept the children to be as their employees because they do not want to complicate themselves by making another contract or document with the children’s family in order to show that they work voluntarily under a sanity environment. Therefore, more labor unions should be created to protect those whose rights are abused by their employers. The regulations should be enforced and the governments as well as the employers should respect those regulations. Moreover, Cambodia should really have independent, sophisticated, and influential unions, so that whenever the governments enact the law of labors law, they could not cheat on it. For instance, in the new trade law, its scope is too small that it is not allowed the teachers, civil workers, informal workers, and domestic workers to form a union is violated human right written in article 266. Moreover, the procedure of creating the union is so strict that it looks as if it tries to minimize the number of union in Cambodia. The restriction over age, education, and residency for the union leaders make it hard for the workers to form unions. Furthermore, the financial report that the workers have to summit to their employers are tedious because it is really unnecessary. In short, the labor unions need to be created, so that those unions can stand up for the labor and protect them from the government or employers so that they could not be cheated by those two parties [16]. Union also involves with cooperate social responsibility since they are created to make labor workers live in a healthy life style, find justice for them through right protection, and make the peaceful negotiation between the workers, employers and government which enables the country to stay in harmony. All in all, more unions in Cambodia should be created in pursue of protecting the labors’ rights and making them live and work in a healthy environment. Because of the unions in Cambodia is so little and there is only CLC which is an independent confederation to protect the labor workers, it leads to chaotic situation in the company throughout the miss communication between the employers and employees. Hence if more unions are created, it will help to strengthen the relationship between the two parties making them work well together, so the peaceful negotiation will occur and the company or the society will be able to stay under the hormonal condition.

To sum up, even though, unions provide Cambodia both advantages and disadvantages, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. The disadvantages are the chaotic situation causing by the labor workers when they strike and the decline in economics; whereas, the advantages are the protection of human rights, and the improvement the economics condition. The disadvantages are actually caused by the miss communication between the employees, employers, and the government; therefore, if the three party or especially the two parties which is the employees and employers understand each other and their relationship is strengthen then there will be no disorder. Unions can also provide peaceful negotiation and because of the amount of unions in Cambodia is so small and not effective enough, that is why peaceful negotiation is rarely occurred. In short, Cambodia really needs labor unions to protect the workers, abolish the violation of the labors’ rights, and improve the economics condition in the country.







  1. Cambodian Labor Confederation. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2016, from
  2. Nuon, V., & Serrano, M. R. (2010). Building unions in Cambodia: History, challenges, strategies (pp. 19-60). Singapore: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Office for Regional Cooperation in Asia.
  3. Mong, P. (2014, September 25). Cambodia. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from
  4. Cheang, S. (2014, January 2). Cambodian troops quash protest at garment factory. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from
  5. Yun, S., & Lipes, J. (2013, December 30). Cambodian Garment Factories Closed Due to Wage Strikes. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from
  6. Foreign direct investment, net inflows (BoP, current US$). (n.d.). Retrieved November 14, 2016, from
  7. Murphy, J. (2014, January 21). Cambodian garment workers’ battle for labour rights deserves our support | Jim Murphy. Retrieved November 15, 2016, from
  8. Crane, J. (n.d.). How do Unions work? Retrieved November 15, 2016, from
  9. Aun, P., & Zsombor, P. (2014, January 09). GMAC Defends Use of Force Against Striking Workers – The Cambodia Daily. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from
  10. Tha, T., Tha, K., Yin, S., Cheng, M., & Sonorng, K. (2013, December 22). Cambodian Garment Workers Confront Authorities Over Pay in Svay Rieng Province. Retrieved November 16, 2016, from
  11. Kang, C., & Liv, D. (2009). Living Wage Survey for Cambodia’s Garment Industry (p. 8, Working paper). Phnom Penh, Non-US/Non-Canadian: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and TWARO-ITGLWF.
  12. Belcher, L. M. (2016, November 17). The Advantages of Using Money to Motivate Employees. Retrieved November 20, 2016, from
  13. Miles, T. (2013, June 25). Employees Are Customers, Too. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from
  14. Sokchea, M. (2014, January 07). ICC complaint to lay shootings at PM’s feet. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from’s-feet
  15. ZSOMBOR, P. (2015, March 13). ‘Systematic’ Labor Abuse at Garment Plants, Group Finds – The Cambodia Daily. Retrieved November 18, 2016, from
  16. Mong, P. (2016, April 18). The Trouble With Cambodia’s New Law on Trade Unions. Retrieved November 20, 2016, from



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