The government on Monday requested that manufacturers look at raising the minimum wage for garment workers, but only after divided trade unions agree on what that wage should be.
At the moment, union leaders are demanding that the current $61 per month minimum wage be raised to between $93 and $150, a 52 percent and 145 percent hike, respectively.
“After discussions, those present at the meeting agree in principle to discuss raising the minimum wage for workers,” the Ministry of Labor said in a statement after a meeting between manufacturers and unions on the issue.
“The meeting requested all unions meet and raise a joint request for the minimum wage to be discussed with the employers to reach a resolution,” the statement says, adding that union leaders should submit their request to the government before the next meeting at the ministry on February 26.
Yesterday’s meeting followed a speech from Prime Minister Hun Sen on December 12 in which he called on manufacturers to up salaries in Cambodia’s garment factories in order to keep workers in the country.
The last time the minimum wage was increased was in July 2010, when it was raised from $50 to $61.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, said prior to Monday’s meeting that demands from many of the unions were “unrealistic.”
“We can’t expect 50 to 60 to 70 percent [increase in the minimum wage]. The Royal Government announced a 20 percent salary increase [for civil servants], so I would presume that that would be a good starting point,” he said.
Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia program, said that the ILO would mediate discussions between the various trade unions—which represent some 300,000 workers.
Sam Aun, president of the CPP-aligned Cambodia Labor Union Federation, said that $93 would be a fair figure, while Ath Thorn, president of the nonaligned Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said that he would stand behind raising the minimum wage to $150.
“I think that workers can live on a minimum wage of $93 per month because they also get their bonus, rent, and transport allowances and add overtime to their salary,” said Mr. Aun. But Mr. Thorn warned that if the wage hike was too modest, workers would likely continue to protest.