Unions Make New Demands as Factories Focus on Productivity

Following the announcement earlier this month that the monthly minimum wage in the garment sector will be raised from $128 to $140 next year, eight unions representing factory workers issued a list of 13 demands on Tuesday, threatening protests if their requests go ignored.

The statement calls on the government, factory owners and the brands that buy from them to take part in negotiations over demands including increased lunch stipends, an end to short-term contracts, transport and living improvements, control of utility and commodity prices and an end to legal harassment of union leaders.

“In case the government, companies, producers and buyers do not arrange to negotiate over the above demands, we will protest in public in the future,” the statement said.

Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers, one of the country’s most strident unions, said an increase in the minimum wage was not enough to ensure decent lives for workers.

“If the employers and government agree to the demands, it will improve [workers’] living conditions alongside their minimum wages, because we still see there is discrimination and the use of the court system to put pressure on unions who help workers fight for their rights,” he said.

Leading up to the minimum wage decision on October 8, unions said they would consider protesting if their demand for a minimum wage of at least $160 was not met. However, Ath Thorn, head of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said they had decided to take a different course.

“We are not showing that we oppose the employers’ and government’s decision on the minimum wage increase, and we understand the need to remain regionally competitive,” he said. “Therefore we demand other bonuses for the workers.”

On Tuesday, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) released its own statement in response to the wage increase, stressing the need to raise productivity.

“We now need to see all parties, including the buyers, focus on improving productivity to help offset rising costs and keep factories economically viable,” GMAC secretary -general Ken Loo is quoted as saying in the statement.

Speaking by telephone on Wednesday, Mr. Loo said that GMAC was willing to negotiate with the unions about their latest requests, but not in their present form.

“They have come up with a huge list. Some of the requests are targeted at the government, some at the employers, so if they come up with more specific requests and seek negotiation or discussion with GMAC, then we are open to discussions,” he said.

“However, if the demands come in the form of a threat, then we don’t entertain threats.”

William Conklin, country director for the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights group, said the issues that the unions are raising have long been festering in the sector, which employs some 700,000 workers nationwide.

“On one hand, you have GMAC proclaiming the need for greater productivity,” he said. “Well, a lot of these things the unions are asking for are investments in the workforce that would bring greater productivity.”

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