Garment worker unions, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia and the government failed to agree on a new minimum wage at a meeting Monday, continuing the possibility of widespread strikes, union officials said.
The three sides are scheduled to meet again Friday to further discuss increasing the $50-a-month minimum wage to at least $55, which unions say their workers need due to inflation.
Ministry of Labor Undersecretary of State Oum Mean said that at Monday’s meeting the government supported an offer from GMAC to add $4 to all garment workers’ salaries, but it would be considered a “bonus” and not a minimum wage increase. He said an across-the-board increase, rather than a boost to the minimum wage, would benefit more workers, such as those already making more than $50 a month.
The negotiations are complicated, Oum Mean said, because unions can’t agree among themselves and union proposals range from a $5 increase to an $8 increase.
“We hope we will have a result. On behalf of the Ministry of Labor, I appeal to the workers to stay calm and to work, and we will succeed on Friday,” he said.
GMAC’s suggestion of a “bonus” instead of an outright increase could hurt garment workers, said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodia Confederation of Unions, which is demanding a $5 increase.
Rong Chhun said that if the increase is considered to only be a bonus, it’s more likely to be taken away in the future.
“There was no positive result as we had anticipated,” he said of the meeting, “but we are moving towards a result.”
GMAC President Van Sou Ieng declined to comment on whether GMAC would increase their offer of $4.
“There is another meeting. We will see,” he said.
National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia President Som Oun said he demanded an $8 increase during Monday’s meeting because, he claimed, it better matches the rate of inflation. GMAC’s proposal is too small, he said.
“We will wait and see if there is an acceptable offer,” he added. “We are not afraid of going on strike as long as we comply with the law.”
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union and CCU secretary-general, said the FTU will continue to demand $5, but added that the FTU is not calling for an immediate strike.
“I have appealed to the workers to calm down and wait until the discussion is finished,” he said.
John Ritchotte, a chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s Labor Dispute Resolution Project, said the negotiations show the power of unions in Cambodian and the issue of inflation.
“Everyone seems to recognize that inflation is having an impact on the pocket book,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)