Consensus On Wage Eludes Unions On First Try

Union leaders representing some of the country’s 700,000 garment workers failed Wednesday in their first attempt to agree on how much of a raise they would ask for to the current minimum wage of $128 in coming negotiations.

It was the first time independent and pro-government unions had met since an independent survey revealed last week that the median monthly spending of garment workers stood at $207.50, including remittances to their families. About 20 union leaders met behind closed doors in Phnom Penh on Wednesday hoping to reach a consensus on how big of a raise they should demand.

“We discussed the figure, but some members wanted to remove some items [listed in the study] because they thought it was too high while others wanted $207,” Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said afterward.

“I want $207 because it was the result of the study of the workers, and we have grounds to negotiate with [employers],” she said. “But if everyone agrees to use another number that is lower than this, then we will consider it.”

DC Research was commissioned for the spending study by labor rights groups and surveyed more than 700 garment workers across the country.

Chuon Mom Thol, a government adviser and president of the Cambodia Union Federation, said he wanted to see the minimum wage raise by between 10 percent and 15 percent.

National Trade Union Coalition president Far Saly said he thought $207 was too high and that some items in the monthly expenses list should be excluded.

“Some items are not reasonable…. We are looking for basic expenses per month, not the cost of phones and hanging out,” he said.

The unions agreed to pick up the debate on Monday, two days before the first meeting this year between representatives from the unions, employers and government.

The Ministry of Labor will set the new wage in October and put it into effect in January.

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