A would-be tripartite workshop intended to improve the garment sector’s minimum wage setting process closed Friday, with the industry’s most influential player, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), boycotting the talks at Phnom Penh Hotel.
The two-day workshop would have been the first meeting between the strife-torn garment industry’s three factions—unions, employers and the government—since strikes in December and January ended in violence after the military police shot dead at least five protesters.
Unions and the Labor Ministry were heavily represented at the talks in Phnom Penh, but GMAC decided to stay away, contrary to government reports that one representative was present Thursday.
“I want to make it very clear that GMAC did not engage in these talks,” said Ken Loo, secretary-general of GMAC, which represents about 500 of the country’s exporting factories.
Mr. Loo said that he and other key GMAC personnel were out of town this week and that he did not want to send lower-ranking staff to a meeting that he claims had no clear agenda.
“We only received an invitation Thursday and the objective of the meeting was not clear,” Mr. Loo said. “We did not want to be forced into making decisions with none of our key personnel present.”
Mr. Loo said that he and his deputy, Kaing Monika, were in Jakarta for a regional textiles meeting that the International Labor Organization, which organized the Phnom Penh talks, “must have known about.” GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng was also unavailable, Mr. Loo said.
Ministry of Labor spokesman Heng Suor, who said Thursday that a representative of GMAC was present on the opening day, could not be reached for comment Friday.
At the close of the talks, the Ministry of Labor circulated a statement saying that the two parties present had agreed that the absence of a mechanism to solve labor disputes was the chief reason that labor disputes occurred.
The statement also said that the two parties had “agreed in principle” that all wage negotiations should have a “win-win result” and that data from the National Institute of Statistics should be used to settle upon any adjustment to minimum wages.
Malte Luebker, the ILO’s Senior Regional Wage Specialist, said that the two-day talks were constructive but declined to comment further for fear of raising the ire of GMAC.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said the absence of employers was a moot point.
“Whether or not GMAC participates is not important because the one who sets the minimum wage is the government.”
(Additional reporting by Sek Odom)