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Minister defends law changes

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Workers sew at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. Hong Menea

Minister defends law changes

The Minister of Labour and Vocational Training on Thursday defended recently proposed amendments to the Labour Law despite criticism from union leaders, arguing that they will bring investment to the Kingdom and create jobs.

The ministry intends to amend the Labour Law to reduce night shift workers’ wages and bring them in line with day rates, eliminate the practice of giving workers the next day off if a national holiday falls on a Sunday and expand the scope of the Arbitration Council.

Minister Ith Sam Heng said all proposed changes will draw key industrial investment that will keep unemployment at bay for Cambodians. However, unions argue that the government could achieve the same outcome in ways that did not infringe on workers’ benefits.

Speaking during a consultation workshop on the amendments in Phnom Penh on Thursday, Sam Heng stressed that Cambodia relies on cheap labour to compete for foreign investment.

Rapid wage increases, new technological trends in manufacturing and external factors like climate change are all causing the Kingdom to lose its competitiveness, stunting job growth, Sam Heng said.

“The economy is experiencing healthy growth, but it faces challenges that require us to be flexible. We must overcome these challenges to ensure that the next generation will have access to good jobs,” he said.

Participants in Thursday’s workshop included government officials and representatives of employers and labour unions. The International Labour Organisation was also present.

Regarding the amendment to night shift workers’ wages, Sam Heng said: “It will attract key industrial investments such as electronics and food processing factories.” He noted that such factories often have multiple shifts.

The removal of “compensation days” will increase productivity and improve the country’s competitiveness, he said.

On the last amendment, he commented that expanding the scope of the Arbitration Council is only natural as the body has a high resolution rate and is widely trusted in the country.

He noted that 985 individual disputes were registered with the ministry during the first nine months of last year but that most were resolved at the Arbitration Council and did not reach the courts.

Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU) president Ath Thorn said the amendments cut back workers’ benefits.

“Unless we mobilise workers, these amendments will be introduced. The government has announced drastic measures to attract investors, even cutting public holidays by six days.

“These amendments will affect workers, particularly the ones concerning night shifts and compensation days,” Thorn said.

In contrast, Cambodia Union Federation president Chuon Mom Thol supported the amendments, saying it will attract new investment.

“The law must be adjusted periodically to attract new investors, increase productivity and enhance the country’s competitiveness. This is in everyone’s best interests,” he said.

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