Unions’ Push For $140 Minimum Wage Derailed

After setting up a working group specifically to include some of the country’s more militant unions in wage negotiations for the garment sector, the Labor Ministry said on Thursday that it has thrown out the unions’ demand for a $140 minimum wage in favor of lower recommendations coming from the government and factory owners.

A group of nine union leaders, nine factory representatives and nine government officials—a committee formed to help find common ground on a new wage for the embattled garment sector—held a secret vote on Thursday to choose among three options for a new minimum wage: $110, proposed by factory owners; $121, proposed by the government; or $140, from the unions. 

Both $110 and $121 received nine votes, while $140 received only seven votes, with two union representatives abstaining. Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said the results meant that the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), which is set to put forth a new wage recommendation next month, would not consider the unions’ proposal.

“Our meeting will take the numbers that received the two majority votes and hand them to the LAC to consider and discuss further,” Mr. Suor said. “We will request $110 and $121 for the LAC to discuss further.”

During previous meetings of the group, the government put forth a case that $120 was the poverty level in Phnom Penh, where most garment factories are located, and therefore workers should be guaranteed no less. But factories refused to budge from their figure of $110.

Far Saly, president of the National Trade Unions Coalition, blamed two of his government-aligned colleagues for derailing the unions’ campaign for a $140 floor wage.

“Nuon Chantha, a representative for Sam Oun [president of the Cambodian Labor Union Federation] and Chuon Mom Thol, president of the Cambodia Union Federation, vetoed our demand for $140,” he said.

While Mr. Oun and Mr. Mom Thol ostensibly represent workers in wage negotiations, they both hold positions within the government.

After Thursday’s vote, Mr. Mom Thol would neither confirm nor deny that he did not cast a ballot.

“How do you know?” he said. “The vote is secret.”

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