Organizations Warn of ‘Massive Threat’ in Draft Wage Law

Any protest, advocacy or objection to the minimum wage rate—as well as any independent research into the issue by unions, NGOs, journalists or academics—could effectively be criminalized under Cambodia’s draft Minimum Wage Law, a legal analysis says.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), U.S. labor rights group Solidarity Center and the International Trade Union Confederation released their analysis of the draft on Wednesday, with CCHR Executive Director Chak Sopheap warning that the law “in its current form poses a massive and direct threat” to fundamental freedoms.

The law aims to impose a nationwide minimum wage beyond the garment sector for the first time by formalizing rules and structures around annual negotiations. Though welcomed in principle, it has been criticized since a draft was released late last year over clauses imposing penalties for independent research and objections to the wage rate.

Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said last month that he nevertheless expected the law to be passed this year following a public forum to gather feedback.

“This law will be very useful by ensuring a mechanism for resolving an annual minimum wage for our workers,” he said at the time.

The three organizations’ legal analysis, however, says the current draft is “unacceptable…and it requires a number of significant amendments, from a human rights perspective.”

Provisions in the draft “would muzzle and potentially criminalize journalists, academics and concerned citizens who express their views on the minimum wage,” it says. “Further, workers and unions would potentially be barred from organizing peaceful demonstrations, effectively crippling the work of independent unions.”

Controversial clauses include Article 16, stating that “unless approved by the Minister in Charge of Labor, no one but the National Minimum Wage Council may conduct research related to minimum wage.” Article 28 says violations would warrant a written warning, followed by a fine of “not more than 10,000,000 (ten million) riels,” or about $2,500.

The analysis says the fine would be unpayable for many workers on the minimum wage—the current rate for garment workers is $153 per month—and could lead to criminal prosecution.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached.

(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)

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