The Free Trade Union plans to call a general strike if the National Assembly lowers night wages from 200 to 130 percent of day rates later this month, FTU President Chea Mony said Sunday.
The National Assembly plans to vote May 17 on an amendment to the Labor Law that would lower night wages. Prime Minister Hun Sen wrote to the Assembly last month asking it to make the amendment, saying this would boost employment and spur investment.
“We will strike if the National Assembly approves the law,” Chea Mony said, though he added that FTU members will have to be consulted before a final decision is made. The FTU, which claims to have 70,000 members, would agree to 150 percent night rates if the work week was decreased from 48 to 44 hours, he added.
Chhoun Mom Thol, president of the CPP-affiliated Cambodian Union Federation, said he supported the draft amendment and that his union would oppose any strike.
John Ritchotte, the chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s labor dispute resolution project, said global norms for night wages are 130 to 150 percent of day rates.
“200 percent? I don’t think you’d find that as a standard practice anywhere,” he said. Lowering the rate, he added, will make it more attractive for employers to put in place a night shift. “It should increase employment, but that depends on the number of orders,” he said.
Ritchotte said Cambodia is already at a competitive disadvantage to China and Vietnam because it has to import raw materials, which slows down production times.
“If you can deliver product faster than your competitor you can get the order,” he said. “To the extent that a night shift can decrease turnaround time and allow for quicker production, it can make Cambodia more competitive.”
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said Cambodia’s high night rate was a strong disincentive for manufacturers. Currently only six or seven of Cambodia’s garment factories have night shifts, he said, adding that if all factories were to instate a night shift, employment in the garment sector, which now stands at 350,000, could “easily double.”
“The government has been saying that there are a quarter of a million new entrants into the labor market each year. What other industry can absorb these workers?” he asked.
Chea Mony said there are better ways to boost business in Cambodia than cutting workers’ wages. In a letter to acting National Assembly President Nguon Nhel dated Thursday, Chea Mony urged him to dismiss the amendment, adding: “In order to maintain investment and investors, we must eliminate corruption, bureaucracy, improve security and infrastructure.”
He added that night work remains “very dangerous” for workers, citing the February murder of FTU official Hy Vuthy, who was shot dead as he returned from working the night shift at a Phnom Penh factory.