For months, garment workers have been insisting—often at the top of their lungs—that they need a raise. Employers have been just as insistent that they can’t afford to pay more.
This morning, both will put aside the bullhorns to meet as joint members of the Labor Advisory Committee.
The 20-member committee is required to meet only once or twice per year, although it can meet as often as members want. Since it was set up last year it has apparently met just once, to discuss factory working conditions.
The committee includes 10 representatives from government, including the ministries of Commerce, Women’s Affairs, Health, Agriculture, Industry and Education; five union representatives; and five business representatives. Given the structure, it is considered more likely to lean pro-business than pro-labor.
Om Mean, director-general of the labor and vocational training department at the Ministry of Labor, said this morning’s meeting will be chaired by Soy Sophan, undersecretary of state for Labor, who will have no vote.
The five business representatives are expected to include Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association, and a second GMA member; two members of the Hong Kong-Macau Commerce Association and a representative from the Cambodia Timber Industry Association.
Union representatives are expected to include Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia; Chuon Mum Thal, president of the Cambodian Union Federation; and three other unions.
The nascent garment industry is the nation’s biggest, with about 100,000 workers in nearly 200 factories, most of which are around Phnom Penh. The Free Trade Union, which has enough members in more than 20 factories to close them down, has said a strike is possible if there is no progress at today’s meeting.
Garment workers say they want an increase in the minimum wage, from $40 per month to $70; a cut in the workweek, from 48 hours to 44; and eight additional holidays per year.
Manufacturers have said they cannot afford to increase wages if to remain competitive with other countries and said investors will be reluctant to build factories here if the country has a reputation for labor unrest.