Government Announces Start of Garment Sector Wage Talks

The Labor Ministry on Friday announced that formal negotiations to set a new minimum wage for the country’s all-important garment sector—now at $128 a month—will begin in July, reviving the same schedule for talks it used with unions and employers for the first time last year.

The ministry adopted the new multi-step process in mid-2014, following a string of particularly disruptive strikes over garment sector wages the preceding December and January that briefly brought the industry to a halt and ended with the fatal shooting of at least five workers by military police in Phnom Penh.

It hoped the more inclusive approach would convince the independent unions behind those strikes to stay off the streets and stick to the negotiating table.

The unions did reluctantly accept the 28-percent raise that eventually came out of the process, though some of them attributed the drop in protests to a fear of more shootings.

In its statement on Friday, the Labor Ministry said the process would begin next month with the government, factories and unions each settling on a prefered new wage among themselves. They will follow that with bilateral negotiations in August and trilateral talks in September. The tripartite Labor Advisory Committee will then meet in October to settle on a raise to recommend to the Labor Ministry—by consensus if possible, and a secret ballot otherwise.

Whatever new wage the ministry finally decides on will take effect in January.

During last year’s negotiations, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) pushed for a raise of 10 percent.

Though the raise the Labor Ministry settled on was much higher, GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said the employers were satisfied with the process.

“We have no issues with the process,” he said Sunday. “The timetable is fine.”

He said it was too early to say how much of a raise the factories might propose this year, as the formal talks had not yet begun and the factories were still coping with the last raise.

GMAC warned last year that a large raise would take a toll on the country’s garment exports, which make up roughly a third of Cambodia’s gross domestic product.

Yet exports have been robust thus far, up 11 percent year-on-year over the first quarter.

To make the new wage negotiations even more inclusive, the Labor Ministry last year created a tripartite working group to advise the Labor Advisory Committee that included some of the more militant unions typically left out of the process.

But the very unions the working group was meant to appease complained that their voice was sabotaged by government-aligned unions placed on the working group with them.

In Friday’s statement, the Labor Ministry said it would revive the working group, too.

However, Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said he would not be rejoining the group unless the ministry invited independent unions only.

“We will see if the ministry changes the process. If the process stays the same, we will abandon it,” he said.

A spokesman for the Labor Ministry could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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