Unions, Factories Set Positions on Minimum Wage Raise

Unions and factories remained at odds over where to peg next year’s minimum wage for the garment sector after a meeting between representatives for both sides on Friday, though they agreed to resume the talks later in the month.

Earlier this year, the Labor Advisory Committee, made up of government, factory and union representatives, agreed to hold a series of negotiations that will lead up to the start of a new minimum wage for garment workers on January 1.

The committee is aiming to settle on the new wage in October, and Friday’s meeting was the first between the unions and Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) to begin the process.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said the unions all went into the meeting having agreed to call for a raise of the minimum monthly wage from $100, where it sits now, to $177.

“We want the employers to increase it between $160 and $177 per month,” he said. “Although we did not reach an agreement, GMAC and the unions discussed and shared ideas, and we will continue discussing.”

GMAC has repeatedly said that factories could not afford such a sharp and fast raise, and Mr. Athit said it made the same case again on Friday. But the unions are dubious and want to see proof of the factories’ earnings.

Nationwide protests for a $160 minimum wage briefly crippled the industry in late December and came to a violent halt on January 3 when military police shot into a crowd of demonstrators, killing at least five workers and injuring dozens.

A government study last year concluded that a livable monthly wage for garment workers fell between $157 and $177. The factories say workers make that much with overtime and other benefits, but unions and the International Labor Organization disagree.

Mr. Athit said GMAC countered the unions’ proposal at Friday’s meeting with an offer of $115.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo declined to confirm or deny whether the factories proposed the figure.

“It’s not at the stage where we can talk about details,” said Mr. Loo, who insisted that the meeting was not a negotiation.

“There wasn’t any negotiation per se during the meeting, there was more a discussion of ideas,” he said. “There wasn’t any back and forth.”

Mr. Athit and Mr. Loo said both sides agreed to meet again on the matter but had not yet fixed a date.

The government, for its part, announced a plan in December to raise the minimum wage to $160 gradually over the next five years.

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