The National Assembly passed amendments to the Labor Law on Thursday that unions and workers say will have a negative impact on garment workers.
The amendments to eight articles include changes to shift and holiday schedules, among others, with lawmakers saying the changes will increase employment opportunities and contribute to the development of the Cambodian economy.
Speaking at the National Assembly session, Labor Minister Ith Samheng said the amendments were aimed at strengthening Cambodia’s economic competitiveness in order to reach a middle-income level by 2030 and high income by 2050. The Labor Law was created in 1997 and was previously amended in 2007 and 2018.
“The purpose of the draft amendment to the labor law is to facilitate articles related to night shifts of factories and industries that currently process over one shift to increase our ability to attract modern industry,” said Samheng.
Among the new regulations is that when a holiday falls on a Sunday, workers will not getting the following day off. Samheng said that doing that would strengthen Cambodia’s economic competitiveness in the labor market.
But unions and workers criticized the new laws, saying they negatively impacted workers’ livelihood.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC) said that the amendments resulted in the loss of benefits for workers.
“I think that the [old] labor law is good but they amended that law to reduce benefits of workers,” said Thorn.
He said that he regretted the outcome because he and other unions long advocated for an increase to workers’ benefits and had criticized the draft amendments.
“We are not satisfied because it makes workers lose their benefits,” he said.
Mann Seng Hak, vice president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), said their workers were dissatisfied with the outcome.
He said that previously the government removed some public holidays and the new amendments removed even more.
“Our workers are not satisfied with this passing because they lost their benefits but they have no choice,” he said.
Pok Ram, 26, a garment worker at a Phnom Penh factory said that it will impact him and other workers because removing public holidays lowers worker pay.
“It impacts our living and especially during COVID-19 pandemic, our workers need to spend money to buy masks and alcohol to protect against the virus,” Ram said. “I am not satisfied with this passage.”
He said that he requested the government increase the minimum wage as $192 per month doesn’t cover basic daily costs.
Ram also appealed to the government to push for employers to pay more for workers’ transportation and food.
Kaing Monika, deputy secretary general of Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) said that the amendments to the Labor Law came after tripartite discussions among employers, unions and the government and noted that the law uses not only garment workers but it will be used by private companies including banks, restaurants, the tourism sector and other sectors.
“It’s important, whatever we do, we want the Cambodian economy to have a competitive condition,” he said.