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Unions to rally for a higher minimum wage

PRIME Minister Hun Sen, speaking on Sunday, warned workers to avoid demonstrations, while six labour unions announced plans to hold a rally on International Labour Day in a bid to raise minimum wages.

At least 7,000 workers from six worker groups plan to petition the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on May 1 to demand a pay increase for workers in sectors such as the garment trade and tourism.

President of Cambodian Labour Confederation Ath Thun said Sunday that workers will march from Wat Phnom to the National Assembly to file a petition asking the top legislative body to help improve worker livelihoods.

The organisations – which include the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union and the Cambodian Tourism and Service Sector Federation – will ask the assembly to increase minimum wages, provide a national social security fund and pensions, ask employers to prolong work contracts, and ensure that worker associations can operate free from interference.

According to a petition to be submitted to the National Assembly next week, the groups want garment workers to receive a monthly wage of roughly US$93. The current minimum wage is $50.

“Workers will be discouraged from being productive if the National Assembly and the government ignores the request,” said Ath Thun.

News of the rally plans broke as Prime Minister Hun Sen met with more than 3,000 garment workers at Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich on Sunday morning .

The premier advised his audience to continue working and avoid the strikes or demonstrations.

He recommended that workers resolve disputes with the Arbitration Council, according to Chuon Momthol, president of Cambodia Union Federation, who attended the meeting.

“Garment factories are like your cooking pot. So if the workers and factory owners have disputes it is destroying the cooking pot,” Chuon Momthol quoted Hun Sen as saying.

Representatives from the Garment Manufacturing Association in Cambodia (GMAC), speaking Sunday, said wages should not be increased to $93 while factories are still suffering from the global financial crisis.

GMAC says that from January to April, 10 garment factories were closed and more than 10,000 workers lost their jobs.

Cheat Khemara, labour officer of GMAC, said: “I think that at this time being asked to increase the minimum wage is pushing some investors, who are currently losing interest, to turn to other places [to invest].”

Van Sengly, deputy chairman of human rights and the reception of complaints commission of the National Assembly, said Sunday that commission would work on the complaint if the petition and rally are conducted legally.

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