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Minimum wage law to advance to Council of Ministers

Labour Minister Ith Samheng addresses unionists at the final consultation meeting for the draft national minimum wage law yesterday. Photo supplied
Labour Minister Ith Samheng addresses unionists at the final consultation meeting for the draft national minimum wage law yesterday. Photo supplied

Minimum wage law to advance to Council of Ministers

Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng said a final draft of the national minimum wage law will be sent to the Council of Ministers following a last consultative meeting yesterday, though unions from industries from outside of the garment sector expressed surprise that they had been left out of the discussions.

The draft law would extend the minimum wage to other sectors beyond garment and footwear workers, who are currently the only workers who already have minimum monthly salaries. However, the law has been criticised by labour advocates for certain clauses that could stifle unions’ right to assembly and association.

The minister claimed that following the meeting, a final draft of the legislation would be sent to the Council of Ministers, which would then be forwarded to the National Assembly for passage, though he did not divulge a timeline for this process. “We got recommendations from trade unions, brands, buyers, NGOs and development partners, and we had corrections and revisions. So the concerns and challenges are gone,’’ he said.

The meeting had little participation from unions representing food, construction and tourism workers, however.

Non-garment unionists Ou Tephalin and Sok Kin both said their unions, which represent food and construction workers, respectively, should have been invited to a meeting that would impact their workers.

Kin, president of the Building Wood Workers Trade Union of Cambodia, also said their input should have been solicited. “And not just the construction sector, but other sectors should have joined that meeting to represent their sectors,” he said.

Tephalin, who is the president-elect of the Cambodian Food and Service Works Federation, said she would have attended the meeting to at least present her union’s position on the draft despite knowing that there was little chance the legislation would be amended by the ministry. “We have experienced [the passage of] the Trade Union Law,” she said, referring to a law passed in 2016 regulating the rights of unions.

“Many times there were discussions but the law was still passed and eventually we find that this law is in violation of [International Labour Organization] conventions.”

Van Sou Ieng, head of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, agreed that it also would have been helpful to hear from unions representing other economic sectors.

At initial meetings over the draft, unions were opposed to articles laying out hefty fines for anyone trying to “pressure” the wage determining body or who “incited” others to protest the set wages.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said these controversial clauses were raised again in the meeting, but there was no indication from ministry officials if they would be taken into consideration.
“The working group of the Ministry of Labour told us they will review our demands for changes but did not promise to remove [the clauses],” she said.

The International Labour Organization, which in August called for further deliberations and “greater clarity” on certain articles of the draft, did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Moeun Tola, head of labour rights group Central, said most stakeholders, including brands, had expressed concerns with parts of the draft and that passage of the current version could impact the sector.

“I, personally, don’t want to see the collapse or decrease of this industry,” he said.

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