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Unions eye wage discussion

Garment factory workers protest on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard
Garment factory workers protest on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in September last year, calling for the industry’s minimum wage to be increased. Hong Menea

Unions eye wage discussion

Negotiations for next year’s minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment and footwear sector are already gearing up, as union leaders prepare to meet this month to discuss what wage they will demand.

During the week of June 21, union heads will hold a preliminary consensus-building meeting, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. They will use this time to decide the minimum wage they should shoot for in the coming months of negotiations with the Ministry of Labour and employers.

“We have a plan already; we invited other union leaders for a discussion,” Thorn said yesterday. “[Later], we want the government . . . and employers to get together and make sure the wage will be researched and [then] have the amount.”

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour yesterday said there is a set timeline and process for negotiations. First, the unions, government and employers will meet internally through July. Then, in August, the government will hold separate bilateral negotiations with unions and employers. Finally, tripartite talks will be staged in September in order to reach a final decision by October.

Sour added that each group would have to follow a set of social and economic criteria to table a proposed wage they believe to be fair.

“Minimum wage in Cambodia will be annually reviewed in July and will be [decided] in October,” Sour said. “We are trying to compile the data, and . . . each party must come up with their idea and figure based on the criteria.”

In a letter to the Labour Ministry dated Tuesday, the Cambodian Council of National Unions said they would like tripartite negotiations to be held in July. But Sour said that suggested the group lacks awareness of the process.

Union leaders yesterday were tight-lipped about any wage figures they have in mind, but Free Trade Union president Chea Mony said he doubts workers will get a fair deal.

Historically, Mony said, workers in the garment and footwear sector have not been provided a minimum wage that fits their cost of living. He cited a 2013 government study that determined a living wage to be between $157 and $177 per month. Despite the findings, the minimum monthly wage was set much lower and currently stands at $128.

“The ministry had research from 2013 that a living wage is about $177 per month,” Mony said. “But we did not receive this for 2015, so I am not optimistic that the [Labour Ministry’s] Labour Advisory Committee will set a fair minimum wage for next year.”

At least five protesters were killed in January of last year after nationwide protests over the minimum wage that began in 2013.

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