Trade Unions Agree on $177 Wage Demand

A group of nine trade unions representing some of the country’s 700,000 garment workers agreed on Monday to push for a $177 monthly minimum wage for the sector during fast-approaching negotiations, matching the figure they unsuccessfully lobbied for last year.

The Labor Ministry raised the minimum wage from $100 to $128 in December, disappointing some unions but appeasing them enough to stave off the crippling strikes and protests that hit the multibillion-dollar sector in late 2013.

Unions, employers and the government are set to start the monthslong process of setting next year’s minimum wage in a few weeks. Nine of the country’s independent unions met in Phnom Penh on Monday to set their demands.

“We have decided to discuss $177 with the government and employers,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, the largest independent union in the country.

“We chose this number because there was a study that found out how much workers need to cover their expenses,” said Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina, who joined the meeting.

It remains to be seen whether the rest of the unions agree.

Chuon Mum Thal, who heads one of the larger unions aligned with the ruling CPP, the Cambodian Union Federation, said he still supported a plan the Labor Ministry proposed a few years ago to reach a minimum wage of $160 by 2018.

Mr. Mum Thal said he was not invited to Tuesday’s meeting of unions, as did Chea Mony, who heads the Free Trade Union.

“They think my union is too corrupt and gets along with the government, so they did not invite us,” Mr. Mony said, adding his union would probably end up pushing for a figure between $170 and $180.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor dismissed Mr. Sina’s claim that there was any reasoned analysis behind the demand for $177.

“They closed their eyes and said it,” he said. “They do not have a formula.”

Mr. Suor said it was too early to say how much of a raise the government would consider during coming negotiations.

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