Slow But Transparent Debates Shaping Labor Regulations

No major decisions were made on safety proposals presented at the three-hour meeting of the National Labor Advisory Com­mittee, but members said the less tangible result—an active debate that dominated the meeting—was enough to satisfy them.

The 20-member committee, which consists of five representatives each from unions and employers, and 10 officials from various ministries, met Monday to discuss safety regulations proposed by the Ministry of Labor.

Unlike other government-led committees in which draft proposals are skimmed through and passed without any active discussions, the lengthy debate Mon­day produced an amendment on only one article of the regulations that dealt with how much workers can carry.

“I know [this process] makes things slow,” said Soy Sopham, a secretary of state at the Labor Ministry who chaired the meeting. “But I want it to be open, giving a chance to all the participants to share their ideas….This way, regulations will be more effective when they are enacted.”

Huot Chanthy, acting labor inspection director for the Labor Ministry, said the committee has been very active since its formation a year ago.

He said the committee has already met seven times, instead of the two meetings required of the group under the labor law.

One of the major achievements for the committee last year was to raise the minimum wage for garment workers to $45 per month,  a $5 hike.

Last month, the committee was asked to examine three drafts of labor safety regulations, dealing with standards for heavy loads, temperature in a workplace and the working environment.

At that time, the committee managed to go through only two of the less than 20 articles in the regulations.

The committee resumed de­bate Monday, talking about protecting new mothers from carrying heavy loads and specific regulations on limits on what workers can carry based on age and sex.

Some members questioned the original draft, which states new mothers who just return from a three-month maternity leave can not be asked to lift items that weigh heavier than 5 kilograms for two months.

Several members suggested that this protection should be extended to women who have had a miscarriage or an abortion.

Others said the protection should not be extended because Cambodian women are too ashamed to even say they’ve had an abortion or miscarriage.

“I believe this is the only [three-group] committee where international observers, NGOs and others are also encouraged to participate in debates,” said Chuon Mum Thal, president of the Cambodian Union Federation and vice-chairman of the comittee.

Members also talked about whether separate regulations on weight-carrying limits should be made for items carried manually and mechanically.

“Every player in the labor sector has a choice to express their opinions on issues,” said Henry Kong, president of the Cambodia Timber Industry Association.

This committee “provides a good forum to shape regulations,” he said.



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