New concerns have been raised that a provision within the draft law on an expanded minimum wage would pose a serious threat to independent research on labour issues.
If passed into law, the draft – a copy of which was obtained by the Post earlier this week – would establish Cambodia’s first-ever universal minimum wage. The minimum wage would be debated and set each year by a tripartite “minimum wage council”, with at least 48 seats filled equally by union representatives, employers and government officials.
Civil society members and union leaders expressed alarm when the draft surfaced this week over provisions they feared would have a chilling effect on trade union activities, particularly the right to strike.
But concerns are now also mounting that Article 16 of the draft law would violate the free speech rights of academics, trade unions and workers. Under the article, any person or institution, other than the minimum wage council, who wished to conduct research into wage issues would have to first obtain permission from the Ministry of Labour or risk a $2,500 fine.
William Conklin, country director at labour rights NGO Solidarity Centre, said he believed the article was motivated by a desire to ensure all data used in minimum wage discussions were centralised and vetted, but he also felt the law went too far.
“You’re basically violating the fundamental freedom of expression. You’re saying academic research has to be filtered, and there’s no real rationale for this,” Conklin said, adding that the provision could inhibit unions from conducting basic surveys during salary negotiations with employers. “To say it all has to be sanctioned by an authority is unworkable.”
Piseth Duch, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights’ business and human Rights program, said in an email earlier this week that the provision would limit the role of institutions other than the minimum wage council in salary discussions.
“Given a lack of transparency and independence of many public agents in general in Cambodia, I think the ministry should enable independent researchers or institutions to freely conduct their own comprehensive research and share with the council and ministry,” Duch said. “By doing so, it could help solve some limitations of the ministry’s resources.”
The provision was also described as “a huge problem” by Ou Virak, of think tank Future Forum, who said it would even “limit the ability of NGOs to propose the living wage”.