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Garment wages discussed

GMAC said it would look into the minimum wages of garment workers as pressure increases to raise monthly pay above the $50 level of 2008

LEADING union representatives met Monday with garment manufacturers and government officials to discuss a rise in the minimum wage for Cambodia’s 358,000 garment workers.

About 100 sector representatives attended the meeting, held at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, to discuss union attempts to raise monthly wages from US$50 to $93.

According to research collated by unions, including the Cambodian Labour Union Federation (CLUF), and the National Institute of Statistics, $93 has been determined to be the minimum wage necessary for garment workers to afford food, housing and work-related travel expenses.

Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), which acts as a representative body for the Kingdom’s major garment producers, offered cautious support for the wage rise.

“In principle, I do not disagree with an increase,” he said, but adding that he would need more time for GMAC to do its own research into the issue before considering the wage rise.

“Today, I want to emphasise to workers that we are only discussing the issue, not agreeing to an increase to $93,” he said.

Van Sou Ieng also told the government-organised conference that he was “very surprised” that a meeting had been organised to talk about the wages, saying that he had only seven days to prepare for discussions.

If GMAC agrees to an increase, we will automatically agree too."

But Som Aum, president of CLUF and chairman of the Living Worker Wage Committee, said that he sent the study proposing the living wage increase in both Khmer and English to GMAC in February 2009.
Vong Soth, minister of labour and chairman of the Labour Consultation Committee, also disputed that GMAC had been taken by surprise the issue.

“No, don’t say that you are surprised by this meeting. It is an important subject to discuss in order to find a good result for both parties,” he said at the meeting.

International organisations have welcomed the opening of formal discussions on the minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since April 2008.

John Ritchotte, an industrial relations specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Bangkok, Thailand, attended the Monday meeting and welcomed it as an important development. “It’s the opening step in the process. I would say it was a positive meeting for both sides, who each looked willing to engage in dialogue to reach a solution towards a minimum wage.”

A wage increase, if agreed, would be the first in just under two years.

According to a report by the ILO’s Better Factories for Cambodia initiative and talks with industry experts, in April 2008 it was agreed that garment workers would be paid an additional $6-a-month allowance by the government in a bid to boost wages.

This followed 2006 negotiations between GMAC and a council of unions, which resulted in the minimum wage being increased from $45 to $50 in early 2007.

Any increase would provide respite for workers who have been hit hard by the economic crisis.

Last year, according to Ministry of Labour statistics, 93 garment factories closed and 60 suspended work, leaving 68,190 workers without employment.

In December last year, Cambodia had an estimated 358,660 garment workers.

But some outside sources say the impact of the global economic crisis may prove a stumbling block to imporved payment in the sector.

“I already know that an increase to $93 is not possible. It is too much money to consider when the economic crisis has affected the sector,” said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, adding that he had not been invited to Monday's meeting to discuss the issue further.

Major factories have pledged to follow the lead of GMAC, whatever it decides.

Chhrun Synat, administration director at Maurea Garment Corp factory, which employs 1,500 workers, said he would abide by any decision made by GMAC.

“If GMAC agrees to an increase, we will automatically agree too. Everything depends on GMAC.”

Vong Soth said that he intends to call another meeting to discuss the wage rise but could not provide any details about when the meeting might take place.

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