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26 Apr 2022

Fiona Kelliher & Keat Soriththeavy, VOD

Cambodia: Unions claim union busting is on the rise during COVID-19 pandemic and hundreds of workers are jobless

"Union-Busting Under Guise of Pandemic Leaves Hundreds Out of Work", 26 April 2022

... Cambodian labor law prohibits employers from considering union affiliation or participation in hiring, promotion or dismissal decisions...

Worker advocates say her case is part of a broader pattern of pandemic union-busting in Cambodia with few avenues for recourse. Since the start of 2020, one of the nation’s most prominent unions, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), estimates that roughly 350 union leaders and active members have been dismissed under the guise of Covid-19, comprising about one-quarter of approximately 1,400 cases of alleged union-busting since 2015.

Experts say it’s unclear whether union-busting increased during the pandemic because of a lack of centralized data tracking the phenomenon. But as Covid-19 became the standard excuse for dismissals, labor leaders found it increasingly difficult to negotiate with employers and reinstate workers who they argue were unfairly terminated — some of whom have now been jobless for almost two years.

“This period has provided the employer more power to continue to avoid responsibility that they’re supposed to have,” said Kong Athit, president of CCAWDU. “It pushes us back almost 10 years.”

Union-busting in Cambodia’s garment factories long predates the pandemic and has historically been characterized by the dismissal or bribery of small groups of leaders, said Sabina Lawreniuk, a University of Nottingham research fellow specializing in Cambodian garment industry.

The Covid-19 pandemic upended that formula of pushing out targeted pockets of leaders. As Western retailers canceled orders and factories shut down, about 100,000 of the country’s 800,000 garment workers were put out of work by May 2020...