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Minimum wage talks deadlock

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Workers make apparel at a Phnom Penh factory that supplies sportswear giant Adidas. Photograph: Will Baxter/Phnom Penh Post

Workers in the Kingdom’s lucrative garment and footwear industries appear close to a monthly minimum wage increase of at least $6, despite talks between trade unions, the factories’ association and the government ending in deadlock yesterday.

The three parties agreed in the early evening to adjourn closed-door talks until this afternoon, after unions stood firm in their demands for nearly double the minimum wage across the $4 billion export industries.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), said unions had dismissed a figure put forward by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and would lobby again today for the minimum wage to be increased from $61 to $120.

“They said they can provide us with $72 per month. This meeting did not get anywhere, because they offered us too little. We can’t agree with it,” he said.

GMAC had failed to explain to unions the exact reason why – given the huge profits generated by the country’s 400-plus factories – a 100 per cent increase was out of the question, Chhun added.

“We demand $120,” he said, adding that it would bring workers in line with their counterparts in Thailand and Vietnam. “Seventy-two dollars is a long way from what we want.”

GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo, however, said the figure his organisation had put forward was actually even further from what the unions were demanding: the $72 included a $5 health allowance that is currently not included in the $61 minimum wage.

“The existing $61 would be increased by $6 to $67 and we would take the $5 health allowance, bringing it up to $72,” he said.

Loo said it was hard to say whether further negotiations today would drive that figure higher.

“It depends on what the unions come up with . . . If they want to stay on their pedestal with $120, there wouldn’t be any more [negotiating].”

Trade unions agreed on $120, initially proposed by the Free Trade Union, last week after a request by Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng for union groups to arrive at yesterday’s meeting in agreement.

However, Sath Samuth, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, said he believed only about five or six of the “many unions involved” were prepared to stand firm on $120.

“The employers have already said they don’t have the ability to increase the minimum wage by $60, so we will wait to see what happens tomorrow,” he said, adding that he expected parties would reach agreement on a “suitable” wage.

Dave Welsh, American Center for International Labor Solidarity country manager, said unions were trying to make a big leap forward with wages so a systematic process to review increases could be introduced down the track.

Government representatives, on the other hand, were supporting GMAC’s figure and suggesting that if wages were increased too much, prices would also rise, causing buyers to shift to other countries, Welsh said.

“The notion is that if we don’t focus on labour conditions, we will flourish. But buyers don’t come here for the lowest prices. They go to Bangladesh for that.”

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