Union Reps, Employers Head To Government Mediated Wage Talks

Minimum wage negotiations in the garment sector headed toward government mediation on Thursday as a gulf of more than $30 pay per month still separated workers and employers after two days of bilateral talks.

Workers’ representatives softened their initial demand by $2 a month to $177.59, while employers stood pat with an offer of $144.20, even as a slightly higher figure of $146.37 was discussed during meetings, according to those present.

The current minimum wage is $140 a month, and the government has proposed a new wage of $148.19.

“We couldn’t reach an agreement…so negotiations will continue at three-party talks” with government representatives on September 26, said Keng Chhenglang, vice president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said both parties had presented reasoned arguments backed by studies and were unlikely to make up the difference negotiating alone.

“The employers offered an increase, so our unions made a concession to decrease our demand a little bit,” but the employers’ offer remained “very low,” Mr. Thorn said.

The minimum wage has more than doubled over the past three years. Employers have said they are now concerned that labor costs are making Cambodia’s garment industry uncompetitive, while unions say workers’ wages have yet to catch up with rising living costs.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he was satisfied with the decision to send the negotiations to the Labor Ministry’s Labor Advisory Committee.

“It’s progress—a lot better than the past two years,” he said. “It’s amicable in that they know our difficulties, we know their difficulties, but we held our positions and agreed we need government mediation.”

“There are no expectations at the moment—just wait and see what happens,” Mr. Loo said.

“It’s an ongoing process.”

(Additional reporting by Michael Dickison)

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