Minister Says Wage Agreement Must Be Reached Next Month

Negotiations held on Friday between garment factory owners, union leaders and government officials failed to set a new industry minimum wage for next year, but a final decision will be reached by October 10, according to Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng.

The tripartite Labor Advisory Council (LAC) met to discuss a planned raise to the floor wage, which is currently $100 a month. Going into the meeting, unions were calling for a $77 increase while factories were pushing for a $10 raise.

Emerging from the three-hour-long meeting, Mr. Sam Heng told reporters that no solution had been reached.

“There is no agreement from both sides yet, the unions demand too much and the employers are also trying [to meet their demands], although we have nearly achieved a result,” he said.

Mr. Sam Heng, who declined to reveal what figures had been discussed during the talks, said that a minimum wage, set to take effect in January, must be set at the next meeting of the LAC, due to be held on October 10.

“Our procedure cannot get into deadlock, we will have agreement,” he said. “If the final discussions are still not successful, then we will have a secret ballot where whichever number has a lot of support voiced for it, we will agree to it.”

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said despite the failure to reach a consensus on Friday, a decision should be reached on October 10 “barring a catastrophe.”

“The meeting agreed that both parties would go back to our respective constituents to get the final position,” he said.

Asked how important it was to ensure workers were happy with the result, to avoid a repeat of December and January’s nationwide strikes that temporarily crippled the garment sector, Mr. Loo said: “I think it’s equally important that the employers get a wage they are happy with. Even the last time, it was only the minority [of workers] who were striking.”

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said unions had faced strong disagreement from GMAC over their wage demands.

“So the employer asked the government to decide [but] unions will not decrease the amount we want, therefore the government should provide a suitable minimum wage,” he said.

“For us, $177 is a number for discussion that we will negotiate, but the employers say that $110 is their final figure.”

Mr. Thorn, who heads the largest independent union in the country, said unions will hold strikes or demonstrations if workers are unhappy with the end result.

“If there is no result on October 10, something will have to happen [and] we will continue to put pressure on big brands like Adidas and Gap to support us,” he said.

“If the companies cannot provide higher wages, how can these buyers go ahead and buy from those companies?”

odom@cambodiadaily.com, robertson@cambodiadaily.com

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