A group of 17 union leaders will demand $179.60 when they sit down for the latest round of negotiations this week to determine the minimum wage in the garment sector, which employs more than 600,000 Cambodians.
The monthly minimum wage is currently $140. The new figure was announced after a meeting on Friday of a number of the country’s most prominent unions, together with labor advocacy groups.
“After our unions’ detailed discussion…our unions have agreed to take $179.60 for negotiation based on two main factors, which are society and economics,” said a letter released on Friday.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the figure was not high enough for a decent living.
However, he said unions had to take into account the present situation surrounding the sector.
“I think this number is still not enough yet, but we cannot demand higher than this because of our economic and political situation, and investment is limited,” Mr. Thorn said, adding that his union would consider protests if its demand was not met.
Som Aun, president of the pro-government National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, said his group would not protest if the figure was rejected.
“If other unions reject [a lower figure] and want to do any activities, it is their right,” he said. “In the negotiations, we could reduce our demand.”
Neither Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, nor representatives of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) could be reached for comment on Sunday.
However, GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said in June that “the industry is definitely not ready” for a significant wage increase.
The International Labor Organization said much the same in an industry bulletin released last week, saying that factory owners were being squeezed by stagnant prices paid by global brands and rising labor costs.
William Conklin, country director for the U.S.-based labor rights group Solidarity Center, said minimum wage was only one issue that could be addressed in the talks.
If salary demands were not met, he said: “There are other things that the unions—that both sides—need to look at, such as transportation and housing and others.”
“By and large they’re putting in minimum investment,” he said of factory owners, adding that most facilities do not have canteens or any type of transport for workers.
Union representatives said they will meet with GMAC and government officials at the Labor Ministry on Friday to begin talks.
(Additional reporting by Hannah Hawkins)