Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked the National Assembly to amend the Labor Law in a move that would significantly cut the pay of night-shift workers.
According to the proposed amendment, wages for working at night would be cut from the current 200 percent of day rate to 130 percent. The amendment does not change the Labor Law’s definition of “night” as the hours between 10 pm and 5 am.
In a written statement to the National Assembly dated March 23 and obtained Monday, Hun Sen said that the reduction in nighttime wages is necessary to boost employment and spur investment.
“Night-shift wages have been an issue for many years,” the statement reads. “Nighttime wages have caused many investors to hesitate initiating nightshifts, which causes a lack of employment…and affects competitiveness in [foreign] markets,” Hun Sen wrote.
The amendment to the labor law would create around 350,000 jobs annually and boost production because it would make employers more likely to initiate a night shift, he added.
Despite the promises of job creation, the Free Trade Union—the nation’s largest union—condemned the amendment Monday, saying that its members would strike if the Assembly passes it.
“I will write a statement to the National Assembly president to…not approve the law,” FTU President Chea Mony said, calling the proposed amendment “a gift for the garment factories.”
Chea Mony said that employees deserve the current wages they receive for nighttime work because of the dangers they face working at night. He added that corruption, and not night-shift wages, was the main factor harming Cambodia’s ability to attract investment.
“We have been waiting for this for five years,” said Ken Loo, secretary-general for the Cambodian Garment Manufacturers’ Association. He added that even the proposed 130-percent night wage was too high, though it is likely the best compromise that can be reached at this time.
Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, which includes the FTU, wrote in an April 13 letter to the National Assembly that union workers would accept an amendment only if the night rate was no lower than 150 percent and employers provided them with nighttime transportation.
Oum Mean, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said that the amendment, which was drawn up March 28, was designed to clarify the current Labor Law. He said that the double wage for night shifts was always intended to apply only to overtime work that was carried out at night, but had been improperly interpreted to mean any nighttime work.
He said that unions opposed to the amendment were disregarding the broader interests of the country. “If they do not comply with the law, they are not Cambodian,” he added.
Chhoun Mom Thol, president of the CPP government-aligned Cambodian Union Federation, said that his union fully supported the amendment because it would mean more shifts at the factories.
“We don’t receive much benefit from the 200 percent for night work because the factories do not have night work,” he claimed. “At 130 percent, 70 percent of factories will have night work.”
Mu Sochua, secretary-general of the SRP, said that her party recognizes that the current double wage puts undue burden on employers, but she added that the amended wage is too low.
Mu Sochua said that when it comes time to debate the law in the Assembly, the SRP will present the workers views, particularly concerning employee safety and the rising cost of living, which she said have been ignored so far.
John Ritchotte, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s Labor Dispute Resolution Project, said that the move to reduce the night work rate should come as little surprise because it has been discussed extensively for several years.
Ritchotte said that the 130-percent wage rate proposed by the amendment falls within acceptable international and regional norms, which he put at 130 to 150 percent of the daytime wage.
He added, however, that many employees would not be as heavily affected by the measure because they already have preexisting agreements with employers concerning nightshift wages.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who heads the Assembly’s Banking and Finance Commission, said that the amendment was needed because the double night wage was high compared to Cambodia’s neighbors.