The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training released its 2013 annual report Monday, trumpeting a list of nine achievements it had reached in line with its five-year plan for the fourth government mandate, which ended last year.
Speaking to a crowd of about 100 officials at the ministry’s Toul Kok district headquarters in Phnom Penh, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng delivered the annual report, which states in its summary that in 2013 “Peace, political stability, social order and security, and the respect for rights and freedom and human dignity in all aspects…were consolidated on the basis of multi-party liberal democracy.”
Leading the ministry’s list of nine achievements for 2013 was the completion of a study to determine the minimum living wage for workers in the garment and footwear production sector, which it pegged at between $157 and $177 per month.
While garment factory strikes in December and January, and the ensuing deaths of five protesters, were directly related to labor conditions and demands for a $160 per month minimum wage, Minister Sam Heng distanced his ministry from any responsibility for the bloodshed.
“Clashes like that are not labor-related…. The riot at Veng Sreng Street is a different story and relevant only to the Penal Law, or some other law,” the minister said.
Also, among the ministry’s nine achievements for 2013 was the “creation of a dynamic system for resolving all labor disputes,” along with the preparation of new uniforms for labor ministry inspection teams, and improved working conditions across the board.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labor program, said the ministry’s study on a minimum livable wage was laudable. However, the government’s failure to act on the results led to the labor strikes and protests that resulted in the military police shooting dead five protesters and wounding more than 40 on January 3.
“I would agree that completing the study was an achievement, but it’s too bad that the government conducted the study themselves and then betrayed their own findings,” Mr. Tola said.
“The government told the people that they needed more than $150 to live and then told them they would give them only $95,” he said.
“Wages are low, inflation is high and the number of people crossing the border illegally to work in Thailand has doubled,” Mr. Tola said.
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