Cambodia’s Labour Ministry is to drop two contentious clauses from a proposed minimum wage law that would have prevented independent research into the annual negotiation process and established labour courts to resolve disputes.
The changes were announced on Monday (16 October), and will see the removal of Article 16, which would have prevented the use of independent research in determining minimum wages without prior approval from the Labour Ministry. And instead of establishing labour courts to represent workers in disputes, these will continue to be handled by the Arbitration Council.
The amendments follow widespread concerns from apparel and footwear retailers, brands and importers, NGOs, unions and the International Labour Organization (ILO) over the controversial legislation, which would for the first time set salary levels across sectors beyond the garment textile and footwear sector. It is set to be passed this year.
National workshops will also be established to review and adjust union registration procedures in order to make them more transparent and effective, but also to guarantee the rights and freedoms of professional organisations in Cambodia.
An emphasis has also been placed on continued cooperation with international organisations and other partners, particularly ILO Better Factories Cambodia, the Global Deal Initiative of Sweden, and the GIZ project to improve industrial relations in factories.
The revisions to the draft minimum wage law followed a meeting between Dr Ith Samheng, Cambodia’s Minister of Labour, Peter McAllister, executive director of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), along with representatives from the American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) and several brands.
The move is expected to reassure buyers sourcing products from Cambodia.
The AAFA has also expressed concerns aspects of the minimum wage law would limit wage discussion and make it more difficult to resolve disputes in a trusted way. It applauded the move this week by the Ministry as “a good step towards our mutual goal” of creating a more open and transparent process to protect and respect worker rights in Cambodia.
“Thanks to your government’s strong leadership and foresight, you have transformed what was a mere US$27m garment industry in 1995 into a $6.3bn industry employing over 650,000 workers today,” AAFA president and CEO Rick Helfenbein said in a letter to the Prime Minister.
“Part of the reason behind this success is that your government recognised the value of developing a world-class workforce and therefore embraced initiatives to improve working conditions for those 650,000 garment, footwear, and travel goods workers.”
The US association also wants the government to “quickly and fully” implement the new wage commitments, and to further strengthen the Arbitration Council by moving towards making all of its decisions binding, and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Council through contributions from all stakeholders.
It also called on the Ministry to go beyond just removing Article 16 by allowing for full freedom of expression regarding the minimum wage.
Cambodia’s garment, textile and footwear workers are to receive an 11% rise in minimum monthly wages to $170 from January 2018.