Unions Anxious of Draft Wage Law Ahead of Government Meeting

Union representatives and labor rights groups remained deeply concerned about a proposed law for setting a nationwide minimum wage ahead of their meeting with the government today to discuss the draft.

At the moment, the country’s roughly 700,000 garment workers are the only employees in the private sector with a legally binding minimum wage. A new draft law proposes establishing a mechanism for setting a minimum wage for all private sector workers on a regular basis, but would—as written in the current draft—impose fines on anyone who promotes opposition to the wage or carries out their own research on wage issues independent of the government.

“Democratic principles should let people talk about the minimum wage—employers and employees,” Hong Sambath, a lawyer for Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights group, said at a workshop in Phnom Penh on Thursday for unions and NGOs to discuss recent labor legislation. As drafted, lawbreakers would be fined 10 million riel, or about $2,500.

Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said those who feel burned by the Union Law, which took effect earlier this year, should stay alert about the new legislation. Some unions say the Union Law has made it much harder for them to form local branches at individual garment factories since coming into force.

The unions and labor rights groups on Thursday also discussed a new draft Law on Labor Dispute Trial Procedures, which lays out a process for the Labor Ministry to help settle both individual and collective labor disputes in more detail than before.

William Conklin, Solidarity Center’s country director, said in an interview on Wednesday that the law fell short of its potential by keeping decisions non-binding.

“It’s going in the right direction to create a uniform system,” he said, but without binding decisions, “you’re not really addressing one of the systemic problems.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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