Third Time Not the Charm for Wage Negotiations

Trade union and factory representatives failed to make any progress in bridging the divide between their proposals for a new minimum wage for the country’s expansive garment industry during a third day of negotiations on Monday, making a vote all but certain.

During a meeting of the government-run Labor Advisory Committee’s technical working group on September 15, the two sides moved slightly closer to a common proposal on how much the government should raise the current monthly minimum wage of $140. Employers edged up to $146.37, while the unions climbed down slightly to $177.59, leaving them about $31 apart.

Women work at a garment factory in Phnom Penh last month. (Charles Fox)
Women work at a garment factory in Phnom Penh last month. (Charles Fox)

Sitting down for a third round of talks at the Labor Ministry on Monday, however, both sides dug in their heels.

Heng Suor, spokesman for the ministry, which has proposed a new wage of $148.19 and will ultimately make the final decision, said after Monday’s meeting that the working group would vote on all three proposals on Wednesday if a consensus is not reached before then.

“We expect a resolution on the 28th, when we can vote to chose a particular figure,” he said.

The figure that garners the most votes from the 48 members of the tripartite group—16 from each side—will be passed on to the smaller but similarly structured Labor Advisory Committee, which will make its own recommendation to the ministry.

In the meantime, the ministry will hold one more meeting each with the unions and employers, separately, in hopes of bringing them a bit closer, Mr. Suor said.

“The employers have changed their position two times already, and the unions have changed their position too. So we will try to compromise one more time with each party to change their positions,” the spokesman said.

“If they change and come to the same position, that is good. If not, we will see what happens on the 28th.”

Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the employers, said this year’s negotiations for a new minimum wage were proving less bitter than in years past.

But besides a fundamental difference in priorities, he said the disparate preferences between employers and unions on where to source data from was playing a significant role in keeping them apart.

“We use different figures and different thinking,” he said. “One criteria is the cost of living, and we get figures from the [government’s] National Institute of Statistics. But the unions use average monthly consumption,” he added as an example.

Yaing Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said the unions’ proposed figure was born out of their own research on what garment workers need to earn to make a decent living.

“The figure the unions proposed, $177.59, has already come down and I think it is a suitable figure,” she said. “I think we can’t come down any more.”

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