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Gov’t letter to brands ‘lacking in substance’

A government letter that responded lukewarmly to an offer last month from eight global brands to pay more for clothes so that garment workers can earn higher wages has been met with a shrug by some worker advocates.

Dated September 26, the letter from Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng is addressed to “Representatives of Global Brands”.

It thanks them for their offer to increase the price – and volume of orders – for garments purchased from Cambodian factories, then goes on to describe the process of meetings between unions, factories and government officials leading up to the October 10 decision on the sector’s minimum wage, which will be implemented on January 1.

“We are very pleased to hear that you wish to increase your purchasing volumes and prices for our products,” Sam Heng’s letter reads. “Indeed. [sic] this is really a positive signal for Employers to consider the possibilities of increasing minimum wage.”

Advocates for higher salaries were not impressed with the vague tone of the letter.

“There’s no mention of a fair wage or living wage. It’s getting pretty ridiculous,” said Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said the fact that Cambodia responded at all was a positive sign, but expressed disappointment at the letter’s lack of substance.

“They’re not really being very clear on the [wage-setting] mechanism that everyone would agree on,” Athit said.

C.CAWDU is one of seven unions in the Labour Ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee, which mandates the minimum wage.

As tension mounted ahead of the minimum wage talks, two other union activists yesterday were summonsed to Svay Rieng Provincial Court for questioning regarding their involvement in a road-blocking protest on August 13.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers staffers Cham Samnang, 28, and Chea Uddom, 23, are due in court on Tuesday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA

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