The committee on Economic and Financial Policy has reviewed proposed amendments to the Labour Law and forwarded them to the Council of Ministers for approval.

Trade union officials, meanwhile, expressed dissatisfaction, saying the changes come at the expense of the best interests of workers.

Led by Minister of Economy and Finance Aun Pornmoniroth, the committee held a meeting on December 24 to discuss the amendments.

A ministry press release said the draft law focused on three points: revising work shift regulations, strengthening the Arbitration Council and improving the attractiveness and competiveness of the investment environment. The revisions aim to make Cambodia’s Labour Law more consistent with countries in the region.

“The revision to work shift regulations will attract modern industries such as factories producing electrical equipment, electronics and processed foods. It will create more jobs for people and broaden the scope of the Arbitration Council in resolving labour disputes. The aim of this resolution is to facilitate effective labour resolution mechanisms and ensure harmony in professional relations,” it said.

The draft law was devised with consideration for Cambodia’s socio-economic development and will promote labour productivity while enhancing the nation’s economic competiveness in the region and the world, the press release stated.

This is the third time that the government has amended the Labour Law after it was introduced in 1997. The law was previously amended in 2007 and 2018.

Trade union officials decried the changes, saying the amendments would strip nightshift workers of their shift-differential benefits, slashing wages from 130 per cent to parity with the day shift. Additionally, days off which fall on holidays would not be moved to a later day.

However, Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng, who attended the meeting, said the revision to nightshift wage rates sought to create labour opportunities for Cambodians and contribute to the development of the country’s economy. The amendment, he pointed out, would not affect people who periodically work nightshifts because the draft applied only to those who work primarily at night.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina said unions had already presented petitions to the labour ministry requesting that the Labour Law not be revised in this manner. Holidays and benefits have already been reduced on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, he noted.

“The attractiveness of our business environment for investors does not solely depend on having lower benefits for workers. It depends on other factors like the political atmosphere and stability in the country, geography and labour demographics including the skill-level of the workforce.

“Our Cambodian brothers and sisters have worked hard for years. They have the capacity to work. They can meet the needs of neighbouring countries and employers when given the opportunity,” he said.

Sina asked rhetorically why other countries with wages higher than in Cambodia could still attract investors. Attracting investments should not be achieved by reducing workers’ benefits, he said; rather, the loss of benefits can detrimentally affect their productivity.