Frustrated Unions to Boycott Garment Sector Wage Vote

The two non-government aligned unions on the committee that advises the Labor Ministry on the garment sector minimum wage say they will boycott a vote on a new floor wage next week in protest over the failure of their proposed wage to make it onto the ballot.

Last month, the government set up an ad hoc working group with nine members each from the government, factories and unions to try and reach a consensus on what the new monthly wage—currently set at $100—should be before the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) puts the proposal to a vote.

After days of meetings, the working group took a secret ballot vote of its own last week. Nine votes each went to the factories’ proposal for $110 and the government’s proposal for $121. The unions managed only seven votes for their proposal for $140 after two of them abstained, leading to allegations that the two government-aligned union representatives in the group derailed the unions’ proposal.

Feeling cheated, the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions in Cambodia (NIFTUC) and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) say they will be boycotting the LAC when its puts the two wage proposals up for a vote next Wednesday.

“We will boycott the LAC meeting on the 12th because our proposed figure was rejected,” NIFTUC’s acting president, Ken Chhenglang, said Wednesday.

“And if the LAC announces a minimum wage we are not satisfied with, we will take action to pressure [the government and factories] to meet our demands,” she said, adding that strikes and protests would both be likely.

Six unions, including NIFTUC and CCAWDU, staged several days of crippling strikes and demonstrations beginning in December after the LAC rejected their minimum wage demand of $160 and the Labor Ministry announced a new $95 minimum wage.

The ensuing protests—during which the Labor Ministry added another $5 to the minimum wage—left some factories damaged, some international brands wary of placing more orders here and at least five garment workers dead when military police shot into a crowd of demonstrators in Phnom Penh on January 3.

Kong Athith, vice president of CCAWDU, said his union would boycot the LAC meeting as well, convinced the two unions who abstained from the working group’s secret vote last week did so deliberately to sabotage the unions’ position.

And with half the 28 seats on the LAC taken up by government officials and another seven by factories—and five of the seven unions considered close to the government—Mr. Athith said next week’s vote was even less likely to go their way.

“We would lose, so it is better to stay out and see the result and then take action,” Mr. Athith said. “We will talk with our workers to see if they are happy with the new wage and the workers will decide on a plan.”

Cambodia Union Federation president Chuon Mom Thol, who also serves as an adviser to the Labor Ministry and took part in last week’s secret ballot, claimed that he voted for a $140 minimum wage, but would be endorsing the government’s $121 proposal come Wednesday.

“We will try to decide by consensus, or we will decide by a vote,” he said, adding that a boycott by two of the unions would make no difference.

The Labor Ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Since September, five of the six leaders of the unions that led the industry-wide demonstrations following the last minimum wage revision have been placed under supervision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, ostensibly barring them from meeting with other union leaders or join protests.

But a number of the union heads have already flouted the order and say it will not impede their efforts to pressure the government and factory owners to meet the demands of their workers.

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