Major Garment Trade Union Rejects Vote on Minimum Wage

Trade unions representing some of the country’s 700,000 garment workers failed again Wednesday to reach a consensus on how much of a raise to ask for in coming negotiations with employers, with at least one major union refusing to participate in a secret vote.

Leaders from more than a dozen of the sector’s main unions met for the third time in a week in an attempt to agree on the new minimum wage they would propose to the tripartite Labor Advisory Committee (LAC). The committee, composed of union, employer and government representatives, will start negotiations Friday on how much to raise the monthly minimum wage, which currently stands at $128.

The pressure on the unions was raised following a warning from Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour on Tuesday that the unions had to agree on a single number or they would not have a say in the LAC negotiations.

Despite the threat, the largest of the independent unions Wednesday abstained from a vote among the unions on a new minimum wage to support.

“CCAWDU [the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union] is upset with the vote system, so we did not join the vote,” said Kong Athit, the group’s deputy president. “We don’t need to vote; we need to find consensus.”

Mr. Athit said the secret ballot was orchestrated by Chuon Mom Thal, an adviser to the Labor Ministry who leads a prominent pro-government union, and that some of the independent unions would keep trying to decide on their own figure.

“We will try to find a number soon. I think it will not be difficult among the independent unions,” he said.

CCAWDU had initially pushed for a wage of $207, but earlier this week lowered its demands to $178.70. However, a number of pro-government unions have supported a much lower figure.

Mr. Mom Thal said a secret ballot was held to choose between five options between $150 and $178, and that most unions—nine of 14—voted for $158.

“The majority approved this number, so more or less I have to go with it,” he said, adding that he would draft a letter to the LAC shortly to submit $158 as the unions’ official wage proposal.

“This kind of attitude splits the unions,” he said of CCAWDU’s refusal to join the vote. “The unions need unity. How big or how small [the proposed raise] is not important; what is important is unity.”

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