Cambodian arbitrators learn about U.S. labor and employment

Issue October 2007 By Jennifer Rosinski

Labor relations experts from the Massachusetts Bar Association explained the arbitration and grievance process to an eight-member delegation from Cambodia during a roundtable discussion last month.

MBA Past President Kay H. Hodge, a partner and labor and employment attorney at Stoneham, Chandler and Miller in Boston, hosted the informal gathering of arbitrators and administrators from the Arbitration Council Foundation in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Since the foundation was established in May 2003, its members have traveled the globe to learn about labor relations in other countries.
The roundtable kicked off before the start of the House of Delegates meeting on Sept. 19 at the DCU Center in Worcester.

Former MBA Labor & Employment Law Section Council Chair Rosemary Pye, a regional director at the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board, gave an overview of labor relations in Massachusetts. Pye talked about the state and federal administrative agencies that handle labor relations and explained the differences between the private and public sectors.

“Our role is to enforce the law,” Pye said of the NLRB.

Hodge pointed out the differences between Cambodia and the U.S., among them, Cambodia’s laws requiring a breastfeeding woman to have special space in the workplace. Despite that progressive law, Cambodia does not have collective bargaining and unions can be formed without a majority vote, Hodge said.

One problem that often occurs in Cambodia is employers sign contracts to pay employees an amount below the legally mandated wage, said Men Nimmith, executive director of the Arbitration Council Foundation.

That problem would be easily resolved in the United States, Hodge said, because it violates the law.
“It makes no sense to say you’re not in violation of a contract and allow an illegality,” Hodge said. “In the U.S., you can’t agree to take less than the law requires. Any agreement is invalid as a legal matter.”

A PowerPoint presentation on the status of labor in Cambodia was presented by Robert J.S. Ross, a professor in the Department of Sociology at Clark University in Worcester. Ross is a researcher in the area of textile manufacturing and has studied sweatshops for the past decade. More than 80 percent of Cambodia’s exports are clothing.

Ross said Cambodia has a bright future because it is working toward respecting the rights of its workers.

“Cambodian working people have more rights of association than Chinese working people do. Customers know this. They do not want their brands tarnished by controversies,” Ross said.

“Cambodia has the opportunity to be the quality standard of labor practices in the apparel business.”

Nimmith said he and his delegation appreciated the roundtable discussion.

“I would like to say thank you to the Massachusetts Bar Association and to Kay Hodge for great hospitality and warm welcome,” Nimmith said to the entire House of Delegates, all of whom he invited to Cambodia.

Hodge organized the roundtable following her trip to Cambodia last year, when she brought a group of U.S. lawyers to the country to meet with arbitrators.