Garment Wage Plan Set; Some Unions Hold Out

The Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) on Monday approved a detailed schedule leading up to a pay raise for the country’s restive garment sector by January 2015, though a few unions continued to hold out for a raise in October and said protests might resume if they were refused.

The LAC, made up of government, factory and union representatives, approved a draft of the schedule two weeks ago. At Monday’s follow-up meeting, they made the plan official and added a few details.

According to a statement from the LAC, the government, factory owners and unions will all hold separate, internal meetings this month to start discussing next year’s raise. They will follow that with a series of bilateral meetings in August, a tri-partite meeting in September and finally a vote in October before the new minimum wage takes effect January 1.

Emerging from the meeting, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said three of the LAC’s 23 members present Monday voted against the plan and that there had been some “tension” in the room “because each side tried to protect its interests.”

The minister did not elaborate on who the holdouts were or the exact nature of the tensions, but—responding to reporters’ questions—said unions unhappy with the schedule were free to protest as long as they did so legally.

“We do not ban all those people from protesting because it is their right, but they must respect the law,” he said.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers of Democratic Union, said he and Chheng Lang, deputy president of the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions in Cambodia, were among the three who voted against the plan. The vote was carried out by secret ballot.

He said they were standing by their demand that any raise take effect from October.

“We did not vote in support of today’s decision because we want to solve the problem for the workers in 2014,” Mr. Thorn said. “Most of the [LAC] members wanted to implement [the new minimum wage] next year, but we want it to start this year because what those members want is contrary to the workers’ demands.”

The government and factories are looking to raise the current monthly minimum wage of $100 gradually. Mr. Thorn said the independent unions were still demanding that it be raised immediately to $160.

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