Emerging from talks with industry representatives yesterday, the Cambodian Labor Confederation said garment worker unions would hold a vote to consider canceling strikes planned for next week that could see work stoppages by over 100,000 garment workers.
The decision represented a softening of the unions’ position after the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia offered to consider additional benefits for workers who are demanding an increase to the minimum wage.
CLC President Ath Thon said he had met with GMAC representatives yesterday and did not discuss the minimum wage. But he said progress had been made.
“After a long discussion, we could get additional money for health care and daily living support. They will talk about this after October” when the new minimum wage comes into effect, Mr Thon said.
“We will discuss with GMAC in November over seniority, rewards for regular attendance and wages for overtime hours,” he added.
On Aug 3 the CLC led a group of 12 unions in writing to the Labor Ministry and GMAC, calling for a minimum wage for garment workers of between $73 and $95 per month and asking for a new round of negotiations.
The Labor Advisory Committee, multiparty policy-making body, instituted a $5 increase in the minimum wage on July 8, bringing it to $61 per month for the 297,000 workers employed in the industry.
Mr Thon said that more than 100,000 workers would join week-long work stoppages planned for Sept 13 to 18 if the demands were not met.
“I will ask my members and I will issue a notice soon on what principles will be changed,” he said yesterday.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo yesterday reaffirmed that the association would not enter into any further discussions on the minimum wage. However he said they had agreed to discuss proposed benefits.
“We are willing to discuss those points at the LAC if he raises them,” said Mr Loo, adding that if unions did hold a vote on canceling the strikes it would be “a promising sign of willingness to negotiate instead of fighting.”
However if the strikes go ahead, it will be the government’s responsibility to end them, Mr Loo said.
“The issue has reached a point where we need the authorities to pay attention,” he said.
On Aug 7, Pa Angtoni, a member of the Council of Jurists within the Council of Ministers, threatened union leaders in televised remarks with legal action to prevent further labor action.
SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said yesterday that threats against union leaders would not be effective in silencing protests and would present a “negative image” of the industry.
The SRP has historically been allied with the Free Trade Union, which has announced that it will not strike. Ms Sochua said the FTU was independent and pursuing its own strategy.
Garment workers need to earn a “decent” living wage that factors in the cost of items like food, housing, transport and health care, Ms Sochua added.
She said she was encouraged by the fact that both sides were talking and hoped the planned strikes could be averted. But the SRP would support the strikes if they do proceed, she said.
“We will do everything we can. I am sure the workers are ready for it,” Ms Sochua said.
The Free Trade Union–which claims more than 86,000 members–released a statement on Sunday calling on workers not to support the CLC-sponsored strikes.
In the ten years since the garment industry was established in Cambodia, it has been “relatively well-running in terms of industrial relations…and at the same time there is a drive to improve,” said Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories program.
“At the end of the day the fact that there are these meetings…is a positive step. It is a signal, for example, that the unions are better able to represent their workers,” Mr Poutiainen said.