Brands, Unions Say Gov’t Moving Slowly on Wage Talks

International union groups and some global clothing brands that buy from Cambodia told the government Monday that it was moving too slowly in coming up with a new minimum wage for garment workers and that one brand had already cut orders in half because of uncertain supplies.

Representatives from Gap, H&M, Levi’s and Puma all declined to comment as they left a one-and-a-half-hour meeting behind closed doors with the government’s top labor and commerce officials in Phnom Penh, which was a follow-up to a similar meeting in February.

Jyrki Raina, general secretary of the IndustriALL Global Union, said all brand representatives stressed that their continued business in Cambodia rested on the certainty of supplies, something they feared was at risk after months of strikes that have delayed some orders.

“All the brands who were present, they said that they need stability, that they need to be able to see what the future is. That was the clear message to the government,” Mr. Raina said.

A nationwide strike forced most garment factories to briefly shut down in late December and early January. Twenty-three men were recently put on trial for protests that turned violent on the final days of that strike, and 17 unionists have been arrested for taking part in strikes this month alone.

According to Mr. Raina, one of the brands at Monday’s meeting told the government that it had cut its orders back by about 50 percent this year because of uncertainty. He declined to identify the brand.

The latest round of strikes were triggered late last year by demands for a higher monthly minimum wage for garment workers, currently set at $100. The government has since started talks with the unions and employers to come up with a better way to set the figure.

But factory owners declined to participate in a workshop on the setting of a new minimum wage last month, and Mr. Raina said the process was not moving fast enough.

“It has taken a long time, it has been too slow,” he said, but added that news from the government Monday that the Labor Advisory Committee would be taking up the issue in mid-June was “a step forward.”

Mr. Raina said two of the brands also told the government Monday that they were prepared to incorporate another rise in the minimum wage into the price of their clothes, noting that a recent near-doubling of wages in Bangladesh had only increased the retail price of the clothes about 20 cents per item.

Mr. Raina said the government was also asked about the progress of a probe into the military police’s fatal shooting of at least five garment workers at a January 3 protest. There was no reply, he said.

After the meeting, Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said the government’s investigation into the shootings was ongoing, but repeated the state’s line that the deaths were ultimately the fault of the protesters. He conceded, though, that factory owners shared responsibility with the strikers for the uncertainty that has caused brands to cut back orders.

“The cause of the withdrawal is not because of political stability, but because of the uncertainty and the unpredictability of the supply, and who causes the uncertainty and unpredictability? I think both union and employer,” Mr. Suor said.

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