Unions Inch Toward Consensus On Minimum Wage for Workers

Trade unions representing some of the country’s 700,000 garment workers on Monday failed again to reach a consensus on how much of a raise to the current monthly minimum wage of $128 to ask for in coming negotiations with employers, though they may have narrowed the gap.

While some government-aligned unions suggested a raise of between 10 and 15 percent at a meeting on Wednesday, a few independent unions pushed for as much as $207—the median monthly spending of workers, according to a new survey commissioned by labor rights groups.

Ath Thorn, who heads the largest independent union in the country, said Monday that he and some other labor leaders backed off from $207 after agreeing that some of the items considered expenses in the survey were not essential.

“Some of the items are not basic needs, including cigarettes and alcohol and phones,” he said. “After removing these items, we got to $178.70.”

Mr. Thorn said most of the union leaders at the closed-door meeting were coalescing around that figure.

“Ninety percent of the unions in the meeting would agree to $178.70 because it is still a lot, but we will have another meeting on the 23rd. When we agree on a number, we will stamp it and send it to the Ministry of Labor.”

Chuon Mom Thol, however, a Labor Ministry adviser who heads one of the more prominent government-aligned unions, gave the impression that there had been little progress over the past week.

“We know that we will not get a large increase, so why do we keep asking for a large number?” he said. “Today, some people wanted $207, $178 or $158. Me, I want about $148…. So we could not reach an agreement yet.”

A majority of employers surveyed by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia last month said they could not afford any raise.

Unions, employers and the government are scheduled to hold their first tripartite negotiations on the wage on Friday. The Labor Ministry hopes to settle on a increase next month and put it into effect by January.

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