Unions, garment manufacturers and industry watchdogs are insisting that an air of conciliatory calm has settled over the recently tempestuous garment workers' wage talks - at least for now.
But behind the diplomatic language, the bargaining details are unknown, and the well-being of the roughly 300,000-strong work force remains hanging in the balance, industry observers have told the Post.
The wage talks between the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) and the 17 garment and shoe unions of the Interfederation Committee (IC) continued on September 18. The IC has asked that the basic minimum wage be increased from US$45 to $82 a month, but no one is letting on much about the results so far about the battle for the increase - a dispute that nearly resulted in a general strike earlier this year
"Why would they want to fight? The press are looking are for a fight, but both sides understand they need each other," said Alonzo Suson, country program director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS) who, along with the International Labor Organization (ILO) is facilitating the talks.
All sides are keeping close wraps on the progress of the proceedings, and another session has been scheduled for September 30.
"I think the fact that they're going to be meeting again [is a good sign]," said Suson.
"GMAC has made a commitment that there's going to be an increase. Both sides are trying to understand what this means in terms of competition and productivity in business, and how you get businesses interested in Cambodia. Both sides need each other [otherwise] there's going to be no industry."
Suson said Cambodia has fewer than 300 export factories and Vietnam and Bangladesh have thousands. "The bottom line of this discussion is how to get stability in the industry so buyers don't go somewhere else."
Ken Loo, secretary general of GMAC, expressed similar optimism, but would not comment on any specifics nor confirm any negotiated figures.
"We understand the difficulties on the part of the unions and they understand our difficulties as employers," Loo said. "We hope to iron out our differences and, hopefully, an amicable solution will be reached soon.
"We have not managed to come to a consensus yet and we will definitely continue to negotiate past September 30 because we have many things to negotiate."
Local press had quoted a spokesman from the IC saying the unions had dropped their wage increase demand from $82 to $63.
"I don't know where they get that figure," Suson said.
In their final pre-meeting proposals, GMAC offered a $2 increase to the minimum wage.
"The unions feel that [$82 per month] is what it would take for basic survival," Suson said.