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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Garment factory opponents prepare for wage talks

Garment factory opponents prepare for wage talks

The impending showdown between trade unions leaders and the Garment Manufacturers

Association in Cambodia (GMAC) over the minimum wage has both parties keeping quiet

about negotiations and expected outcome, a range of labor analysts have told the

Post.

A total of 17 garment and shoe factory unions have joined forces to form the Inter-federation

Committee (IC) to demand a boost in the minimum wage from $45 per month to $82 per

month. Negotiations between the IC and GMAC on this and other issues will begin on

September 11. The talks will be facilitated by the International Labor Organization

(ILO) and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS).

Relations have been strained between trade unions and GMAC over recent months. A

last-minute compromise postponed a general strike over the minimum wage that was

scheduled for July 3. Union leaders called off the strike after GMAC agreed to negotiate

the wage issue when their leadership delegation returned from trade talk in Geneva.

"We have a lot to address in the negotiations, not only the minimum wage, but

also issues such as working conditions," said Chea Mony, president of the Free

Trade Union, one of the IC's strongest labor groups.

"If we do not get good results and things stay the same, we will use our legal

right to strike. But, if we get a good result for one issue, we will agree to accept

it and then ask to set up further negotiations for more proposals."

On August 31, the IC and GMAC will exchange their final proposals in preparation

for September 11, said Noun Chantha, president of the Dhama Thipaktay Federation

Union, and secretary of the IC.

The IC's draft proposal includes raising the minimum wage, obliging both employers

and workers to accept arbitration council verdicts, reducing work hours, and discusses

night shift and strikes.

The draft proposes minimum monthly wages of $65 for trainee workers, $75 for trial

workers, $82 for full-time workers, $100 for skilled workers and bonuses, including

a $10-a-month punctuality bonus, $5-a-year seniority bonus, and 1,000 riel per hour

overtime.

Night shift proposals include a mandatory rate of 180 percent plus allowances, including

food, accommodation, travel, and health and security insurance. The proposal also

requested striking unions to respect the law, GMAC to punish factories abusing the

law, and GMAC and unions to meet once a month to discuss strikes.

Other countries

A GMAC press release said no industries in Cambodia use a minimum wage salary. The

minimum wage, it said, can be augmented by productivity, seniority and attendance

bonuses. Because it was an international industry, GMAC said workers must accept

wages affordable by employers, so that the Cambodian industry could remain competitive

in the global economy. Otherwise, buyers would stop buying from Cambodian factories,

and the industry would falter.

The GMAC press release also gave figures for the minimum monthly garment-worker wages

in Bangladesh ($20), Laos ($40) and Sri Lanka ($31) - all lower than in Cambodia.

The GMAC release did not provide the figures for Vietnam ($50) or China ($63), which

are in direct market competition in the textile trade.

"If I was chosen for the negotiation table, I would be hoping for 100 percent

success because I know how to respond to GMAC's statement about garment workers in

Laos, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka having a lower minimum wage than in Cambodia,"

Chantha said.

According to Chantha, the three countries had a lower minimum wage because, in contrast

to Cambodia, they did not have high market inflation. He said their respective governments

took annual tax benefits from garment factories, and they also offered social security

benefits to workers, including pensions and health insurance.

In April, the Vietnam government boosted the minimum wage by 40 percent after more

than 40,000 workers held a series of wildcat strikes in Ho Chi Minh City. Wildcat

strikes are work stoppages unauthorized by a labor union.

Ken Loo, Secretary General of GMAC, said he would make no comment on Chantha's response

until the IC had made an official statement. Loo also did not want to comment, until

negotiations had begun, on whether the minimum wage demand of $82 a month was unrealistic,

or on whether GMAC would be prepared to increase the present amount of $45.

"I just hope the negotiations will help us resolve a couple of the more pressing

issues that both parties are concerned about. Obviously they are concerned about

wages, and we are concerned about illegal strikes, among other things," Loo

said.

"I think both parties come to the table in good faith. I think with that commitment

we should have some kind of satisfactory convergence at the end of it all."

John Ritchotte, chief technical adviser of the ILO, said relationships between the

parties appear to be reasonably good.

"I see no reason why the negotiations should not be successful," Ritchotte

said

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