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New wage law flawed: study

Officials discuss a proposed universal minimum wage at a meeting last year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied
Officials discuss a proposed universal minimum wage at a meeting last year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

New wage law flawed: study

Observers and advocates yesterday flagged several violations of international human and workers’ rights in the Kingdom’s draft minimum wage law, calling for the removal of clauses that would impinge on workers’ right to assembly and freedom of expression.

The draft law looks to widen the scope of the country’s minimum wage mechanism, which currently covers only garment workers, by creating a National Minimum Wage Council for other sectors. Released last year, the draft has already been denounced by unions and labour rights groups alike, for its restrictive and punitive clauses. Similar anxiety was expressed during the passage of the Trade Union Law, and was ultimately ignored by the government.

A legal analysis of the draft law, while lauding the creation of a national minimum wage, found that it would undermine and potentially criminalise the work of unions, labour rights activists and civil society groups by barring peaceful demonstrations and sidelining independent unions.

The analysis was conducted by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the labour rights group Solidarity Centre and international workers group the International Trade Union Confederation.

Of concern were punitive fines for using economic and social data not approved by the National Minimum Wage Council to ascertain annual increases, and fines for individuals who commit “illegal acts” in expressing their displeasure at the wage.

Both contradict international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civic and Political Rights, and the Cambodian Constitution’s assurances of freedom of expression, the analysis argues.

“Further, freedom of expression, especially in the context of the labour sector, is deeply intertwined with freedom of assembly and freedom of association, so all of these fundamental freedoms are under major threat should the draft Law proceed in its current form,” Chak Sopheap, CCHR’s executive director, said in an email.

The law also continues the exclusion of informal and domestic workers concerns linked to the Labour and Trade Union Laws as well and retains the composition of the current wage-determining Labour Advisory Council, which is skewed towards the government and employer representatives.

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said the draft presented him with a catch-22 situation accept a minimum wage for his workers, but at the cost of their rights.

With regards to restrictions on using economic and social data, Mora said close to no research had been conducted on a living wage for food workers, or other sectors, and his union would need as much input as possible. “The government will only use data from government [institutions], and that does not reflect the living wage requirements of the workers,” he said.

Sok Kin, vice president of the Building and Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, echoed Mora’s dilemma, saying he could not accept the trade off. He said it was imperative that local unions work collectively towards amending the draft, but that support and pressure from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and global workers’ groups was also needed.

However, Solidarity Center’s William Conklin said that since the ILO was not providing any legal consult during the drafting process, it could act only if an official complaint was filed by the unions.

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