Labor Ministry, ILO Set Out Plan for Minimum Wage Reforms

Facing public pressure from major garment brands and labor unions, the Ministry of Labor and the International Labor Organization (ILO) will cooperate in the coming months to reform the current system of setting the minimum wage in the garment sector.

The reform process will begin with a public seminar planned for April 24 and 25, which will mark the first tripartite meeting between the government, factory owners and union leaders since labor protests were violently suppressed in early January, according to ILO national coordinator Tun Sophorn.

“The aim of the meeting on the 24th and 25th is to have a discussion by all parties on the principles to set the minimum wage, rather than the figure. The purpose is for [the three parties] to set what formula will be used in minimum wage setting or minimum wage adjusting,” Mr. Sophorn said.

The Ministry of Labor released a statement Sunday announcing the seminar and inviting public involvement.

“The seminar will show the risk of setting the lowest minimum wage or the highest and evaluate limits to the minimum wage,” the statement says.

“The Labor Ministry will push for a study to set the minimum wage as soon as possible and would like to welcome the participation and opinion from outside people,” it continues.

Despite threats of a nationwide strike demanding a $160 monthly wage following Khmer New Year, the Labor Ministry has repeatedly refused to restart negotiations over the minimum wage.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said the ministry has agreed to work with the ILO to reform the minimum wage setting system, but is not considering an immediate revision of the monthly wage.

“We have to set a clear foundation for discussions about the minimum wage,” Mr. Suor said. “We will focus on the consequences of raising the minimum wage.”

Last month, 30 international garment brands wrote to Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon in a letter that included a call for a more inclusive process for setting the minimum wage.

The Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), the tripartite body tasked with setting the minimum wage, has come under intense criticism from unions for failing to properly represent workers.

There are currently two non-government aligned union leaders on the 27-member LAC, resulting in votes that overwhelmingly support proposals made by the government—and are often favorable to factory owners.

Despite a government-backed study conducted last year that estimated a living wage for garment workers at more than $155, the LAC on December 24 settled on a $95 minimum wage. Amid protests against the decision, the Labor Ministry unilaterally raised the floor wage on December 31 to $100.

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