Unions to Submit Competing Figures for Wage Discussion

A group of four independent trade unions banded together Thursday to come up with their own minimum wage proposal for coming negotiations with garment factory owners after rejecting the result of a vote the day before.

On Wednesday, nine of 14 leaders of some of the biggest unions representing the country’s 700,000 garment workers voted to make $158 their proposal to the government’s Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), $30 more than the current minimum wage in the garment sector.

The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) abstained from the vote, wanting to build a consensus around a higher wage, $178, and on Thursday gathered three more unions to its side.

Ath Thorn, president of CCAWDU, the largest independent union in the country, said the four unions would send their proposal to the LAC today.

“We want the workers to live properly, and if [employers and government officials] don’t want workers to suffer, they will use this number,” he said.

Mr. Thorn is one of seven union leaders on the LAC, which also comprises seven representatives from the factories and 14 from the government. The committee’s job is to propose a raise to the Labor Ministry, which plans to pick a number sometime next month and put it into effect on January 1.

The four unions settled on their proposal with the help of a recent survey of garment workers conducted by DC Research. They took the survey’s figure for median monthly spending, $207, and whittled it down to $178 by subtracting what they considered non-essentials such as telephones.

Pav Sina, the head of another independent union, said he and a group of other union leaders disagreed with this figure as well and would send their own letter to the LAC proposing a wage of $166.

“The [committee] has to accept our request, because this figure also represents thousands of workers,” he said.

On Tuesday, Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour warned the unions that if they failed to agree on a single figure to propose to the LAC, which starts negotiations today, the committee would only discuss the proposed wage from factory owners.

On Thursday, Mr. Sour softened his position slightly.

He said that if the seven unions on the LAC did not come to the table with a single number, they would have to take a vote on Monday to agree on a proposal.

“There is no way to have a deadlock,” he said. “If they cannot come to a consensus, there will be a vote.”

With few allies on the committee, Mr. Thorn is not expecting such a vote to go his way. But he said if the LAC did not take his $178 proposal into consideration, there would be more of the mass protests that have periodically hobbled the garment sector.

“We can propose our figure, and that’s our business. They can propose their figure, and that’s their business,” he said.

“So if the ministry does not accept our proposal we will protest. We will do like we did before, including strikes, protests and marches.”

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