Garment Factories Say Low Productivity Should Temper Raise

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) on Monday urged unions to moderate their demands in current negotiations over next year’s minimum wage for the garment industry, given the low productivity of Cambodian workers and their many paid days off compared with competing countries.

GMAC said its figures on relative productivity came from confidential sources, however, and that it used Wikipedia for some of its data on paid leave.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) released its own batch of data last month that showed the industry performing well and continuing to attract investors despite a recent 28-percent hike to the monthly minimum wage, bringing it to $128.

But GMAC said the ILO had been “clever” in selecting the figures it published and complained that other factors, including worker productivity, were ignored.

“Cambodia’s garment industry is struggling to stay competitive against neighboring countries like Vietnam and Indonesia with low productivity, labor unrest and upward pressure on wages hindering growth,” GMAC said in its statement Monday.

The association asked that unions—a number of which have agreed to push for a minimum wage of $177—take a “more considered approach” in order to let the industry focus on raising productivity and creating more high-value jobs.

Using China as its benchmark, GMAC said workers in Indonesia and Vietnam were 80 percent as productive as their Chinese counterparts while those in Cambodia came in at just 60 percent. Bangladesh, the only other country it mentioned, came in at 50 percent, but has a much lower minimum wage than Cambodia.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo said the comparative figures on productivity came from the association’s conversations with members of visiting delegations from other countries.

Asked about the information’s accuracy, he said: “There’s no way for us to verify for sure.”

“It’s our information,” he said. “So it’s a question of how much the public trusts GMAC.”

Mr. Loo said the same went for GMAC’s figures on electricity prices in the other three countries—Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh—which the association says are well below Cambodia’s.

GMAC’s figures also show Cambodian workers enjoying far more paid leave than their counterparts in the other three countries. It says Cambodians get 45 days of combined paid public holidays and paid work leave, while Indonesians get 28, Vietnamese 26 and Bangladeshies 21.

While some of its figures on days of paid leave came from the ILO, GMAC also cited Wikipedia—whose user-generated entries often include erroneous information—as a source. Taken together, they leave room for interpretation. According to the ILO’s profile of Bangladesh, for example, teenage employees or those working outside one of the country’s “export processing zones” would be owed more than 21 days.

“Most of the information on Wikipedia is accurate,” Mr. Loo said. “And we don’t rely just on the ILO only…. That would be crazy.”

Moeun Tola, who heads the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said most of Cambodia’s garment workers do not take off the majority of the 18 vacation days they are legally guaranteed, and are often pressured to work overtime on public holidays.

“So in the real practice, workers do not take all those days,” he said.

William Conklin, country representative for the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights group, said the workers deserved their 18 days of paid leave because they work six days a week.

He said GMAC’s productivity claims also required a leap of faith.

“You can use statistics in any way…to justify your argument,” he said. “Unless you reveal your sources, it’s all highly subjective, it depends if you want to believe GMAC.”

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