Union leaders decided Monday to issue an Oct 30 deadline to garment factories to raise the industry’s minimum wage to an “acceptable level” or they will go on strike.
Manufacturers and 17 union leaders met behind closed doors three times in September. After the latest round Saturday, unions lowered their monthly wage demand from $82 to $63. The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia had offered to raise the $45 a month minimum to $47.75.
“It must be finished by Oct 30,” said National Independent Federation Textile Union President Morm Nhim. Otherwise, she said, “we will announce a strike with the interunion federation.”
Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said that if the GMAC talks fail and a strike ensues, unions would likely seek separate wage agreements with individual factories.
Labor Ministry Secretary of State Oum Mean said he was following negotiations closely and that only FTU is pressing for a strike. “The gap is closing [between union and factory offers],” he said.
But CPP-backed Cambodian Union Federation President Chuon Mom Thol said all unions agreed on the new negotiation deadline. “After the deadline there must be a strike. It is a collective strike, it is not just Chea Mony who wants it,” he said.
GMAC Chairman Vann Sou Ieng called the union deadline “unethical.” “One negotiating partner should not threaten another,” he said. “The 40 percent increase in the minimum wage they ask for? No way. It is not possible. The 7 percent increase we have offered is one we can pay.”
Vann Sou Ieng said that union claims that workers cannot survive on $45 alone are “nonsense.” “Every day 300,000 people go to work in the garment factories, if they could not live on that they would not go,” he said. “If unions want to break off negotiations, I would suggest letting market forces decide the wage and abandoning the minimum wage.”
He said that unions were gambling with the livelihoods of their members and that a $63 minimum wage could cause the entire garment industry to collapse. “Vietnam is so much more developed and costs are lower and they have only a $55 minimum wage. How can we be higher than that?”