After Meeting, Garment Sector a Step Closer to Yearly Raises

The tri-partite Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) made some progress in coming up with a new way to set the minimum wage for the country’s volatile garment industry Monday, agreeing to announce raises at the end of each year and to start paying the raises at the beginning of the next.

Some unions, however, pressed for an exception for this year.

The LAC, composed of representatives from the government, factories and unions, met to follow up on an April workshop at which the government and unions agreed the basic wage should be adjusted annually by taking into account both economic and social impacts.

The process for coming up with a new wage-setting system was set in motion after a wave of garment worker strikes, triggered late last year when the LAC decided to raise the sector’s monthly minimum wage from $80 to $95 instead of the $160 that some unions were demanding.

The protests briefly crippled the industry and came to an abrupt end on January 3 when military police shot at workers, killing at least five and wounding more than 40.

After meeting Monday, the LAC issued a statement saying it agreed to meet to discuss a wage raise every year in the third quarter, announce any agreed-to raise in the fourth, and implement that raise the following January, giving factories time to prepare.

The statement also says the LAC would try to make all decisions by consensus. But if they failed to agree after a second meeting, it adds, the 28-member LAC would decide by majority vote with secret ballots.

The statement is signed by Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng, private sector co-chair Nang Sothy and, for the unions, Choun Momthol. Mr. Momthol heads a government-aligned union and also serves as an advisor to Mr. Sam Heng.

“I think that the meeting today was a good sign because no one opposed the agreement,” Mr. Momthol said afterward.

However, Chheng Lang, vice president of the National Independent Federal Textile Union of Cambodia, one of the non-government aligned unions on the LAC, said the agreement was not unanimous.

She said she agreed with the others on how the LAC should make decisions—by secret majority vote if consensus failed—but not on the timetable laid out in the LAC statement, which she voted against.

“We asked that the announcement of the new wage and implementation happen the same month,” she said.

Ms. Lang said she also suggested that the minimum wage rise every year in line with inflation, but was again outnumbered.

Ath Thorn, president of the independent Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said he agreed to have raises start each January, in general, but wanted an exception just for this year.

Like Ms. Lang, he said he wanted this year’s raise to start in October.

“Because [of the] feeling of the workers and the public, they are waiting for agreement,” he said. Any delay in the next raise, he added, “could [lead to] more protest, but we want peace.”

The LAC will meet again on June 30 to discuss the details of the plan and to try to work out their differences.

pheap@cambodiadaily.com, zsombor@cambodiadaily.com

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