Cambodias national draft minimum wage law is awaiting signature by King Norodom Sihamoni

Cambodia's national draft minimum wage law is awaiting signature by King Norodom Sihamoni

Cambodia's newly adopted national draft minimum wage law will not harm the country's garment and textile sector because it "formalises what the industry has been doing for the past four years," just-style has been told.

The draft law was adopted by Cambodia's national assembly earlier this month, and is awaiting signature by King Norodom Sihamoni before it can be implemented.

"The law incorporates the tripartite talks between the ministry of labour, garment manufacturers and trade unions – a mechanism we have been using" to review the minimum wage, explains Ken Loo, secretary general at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC).

This led to clothing and textile worker unions and employers accepting a US$170 per month minimum wage in January, with the review system used by the industry now being enshrined in the law.

It will also enable other sectors in Cambodia to secure minimum wages under a new National Minimum Wage Council, which could potentially increase competition for labour if other sectors raise pay to levels to match those in the clothing industry.

That said, the law has drawn criticism from labour rights organisations. While the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU) president, Ath Thorn, told just-style the fact that tripartite talks have been recognised legally is a positive development, there are worrying clauses in the law that limit workers' rights to undertake industrial action, he notes.

The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) expresses similar concerns: "As it stands, the draft could potentially criminalise all forms of protest in relation to the minimum wage, which has been the motivation for some of the biggest demonstrations in recent memory," Chak Sopheap, CCHR executive director said in a note.

It faults the draft law's processes for wage-setting, saying it does not guarantee union participation and gives significant discretion to Cambodia's labour and vocational training minister to set minimum wages according to the employment sector concerned, varying pay rates by geographic region. This threatens "to undercut the objectives and spirit of the law," adds Sopheap.

The Centre has accused the government of "routinely criminalising legitimate trade union conduct, in violation of international human rights law." Moreover, the "vague prohibition of 'illegal acts' regarding pressuring the government over the minimum wage would seriously undermine the legitimate work of labour activists," adds Jeff Vogt, legal director of the rule of law department at the Solidarity Centre, a global workers' rights group.  

In a joint analysis of the draft law conducted by the Solidarity Centre, CCHR and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) argued it did not adhere to international standards and best practices, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and International Labour Organisation conventions.