Gov’t Sets Ground Rules for Ongoing Wage Talks

The Labor Ministry laid out the ground rules for unions and factories Monday at the first meeting of a new working group charged with getting the two sides to agree on a new minimum wage for garment workers, including a condition that they address each other politely.

The ministry wants the unions and factories to agree on a recommended raise to the current monthly minimum wage of $100 in order to avoid the crippling strikes some of the unions staged after failing to win the $160 they were demanding in December.

Aiming to get the more militant unions in on the talks, the ministry announced the creation of a new working group last week made up of nine representatives each from the unions, factories and government. They are tasked with formulating a recommended raise for the Labor Advisory Committee, which will then recommend a raise to the Labor Ministry before the government makes a final decision.

The latest offer from the fac- tories was a raise of $10. Unions have been pushing for as much as $77, though some of them in recent days said they were willing to go as low as $35 or even $30.

At the end of its first meeting Monday, the new working group failed to emerge with a common figure for the new wage. But the ministry did put out a six-point list of rules on how the representatives are to comport themselves so as to keep the proceedings civil and moving apace.

“Do not use violent words or make conflict with each other,” the first point says.

The other points urge the representatives not to spread information that would cause violence or spark any “illegal” gathering, not to skip any future meetings except in the case of a debilitat- ing illness, back up all their arguments with sound reasoning and respect anyone’s request to keep a particular comment secret.

The ministry fails to stipulate penalties for any rule-breakers, except that anyone who misses a meeting could lose his or her seat in the group.

Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said the rules were meant to help the committee reach a consensus quickly.

“They’re intended to get results as soon as possible,” he said. “Before, employers accused the unions of using protests and strikes to apply pressure during negotiations, so we do not want any side to feel it is under pressure.”

Mr. Suor said the ministry also presented various figures about the economy, the garment industry and poverty rate during Monday’s closed-door meeting to help inform negotiations.

The working group will meet again Tuesday.

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