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Ministry drafting new minimum wage law to cover all workers

Garment workers protest on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard last year, demanding a raise to the industry’s minimum wage.
Garment workers protest on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard last year, demanding a raise to the industry’s minimum wage. Heng Chivoan

Ministry drafting new minimum wage law to cover all workers

The Labour Ministry said last week it was drafting a minimum wage law that would expand beyond the garment industry and cover all workers, a proposal that drew cautious praise from union leaders and advocates, along with a healthy dose of scepticism.

The proposed law, revealed on Thursday by Labour Minister Ith Samheng via his Facebook page, was decidedly light on details but called for the creation of a National Wage Council to provide recommendations for the expanded monthly salary requirement.

There was no mention of when the law would be ready or how it would be implemented. Currently, only garment and footwear workers are entitled to a $140 monthly minimum wage, which will increase to $153 beginning in January.

Ministry spokesman Heng Sour, who could not be reached yesterday, said in a text message sent to journalists on Friday that the new law would be implemented in a “step-by-step” manner across sectors, depending on their social and economic development.

“I want to emphasise that this draft law is just a collection of what we have been implementing,” Sour said, adding that wage procedures were being put into law form to ensure more clarity.

Sour did not clarify if the tripartite body through which the garment sector’s minimum wage is currently decided would be affected by the proposed National Wage Council.

Morm Rithy, president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation, said setting a minimum wage for his sector’s estimated 400,000 workers was needed, but questioned the government’s will to follow through. “I think the most important factor in this is the ministry. If the ministry is willing to decide the law, it should be implemented,” he said.

Sok Kin, deputy president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, said there was a chance the law was being drafted with an eye towards the upcoming elections, but said that could “benefit both workers and the government”.

While construction workers are on average paid similarly or better than garment workers, Kin said a new law would provide more certainty and help unions monitor and push for better wages across the sector.

William Conklin, country director for advocacy group Solidarity Center, said there was no question a national minimum wage was needed, but warned against creating a complicated, multitiered wage structure that would be hard to implement.

“They have to look at it practically. The aim should be the most equitable and simplest structure,” he said.

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