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Resolving a minimum wage

Government recommends a $5 per month increase for garment workers

THE government has recommended a US$5 boost to the monthly minimum wage for garment-sector workers – an amount that falls far short of demands from some union leaders.

Officials with the Labour Advisory Committee are planning to meet with union representatives and factory owners on July 8 to discuss issues including the contentious minimum wage, according to a press release issued Friday by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labour.

“The meeting will discuss an agenda including the minimum salary increase for workers in garment and shoe factories,” the statement said. “The government allows an increase in the minimum salary of $5, and another $6 as a living supplement to the basic salary.”

The current minimum wage for full-time garment workers is $50. Workers already receive a mandatory $6 cost-of-living allowance on top of that.

The press release stated that probationary workers currently earning a minimum salary of $45 a month would receive a similar boost in salary.

Unions and garment factory owners in 2006 agreed to discuss changes to the minimum wage by the end of this year, but there has been no consensus on a suitable increase.

Major unions have proposed wages of $70 and $93; employers have not publicly disclosed how much they are willing to pay.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTU), which demanded an increase to $70 a month, said the government’s recommendation doesn’t meet workers’ needs.

“The Ministry of Labour has done this again and again. Workers have a minimum wage of $50 and a $6 bonus already. So [the recommendation] is different than what we demanded,” he said.

Chea Mony threatened earlier this month to stage a three-day strike in mid-July if the union’s demands were not met. On Sunday, he said that plan was still in place.

“If [employers] do not have a “If [employers] do not have a resolution for workers ... workers will hold a strike,” he said.

Other union leaders contacted Sunday had differing reactions to the government’s minimum wage recommendation.

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (CCAWDU), said a $5 increase would not conform to today’s economic realities.

“Five dollars is not enough,” said Ath Thun, who questioned why the government had issued its recommendation before unions and factory owners had even sat down to discuss the issue face to face.

Labour Ministry officials could not be reached Sunday.

But Chuon Momthol, president of the pro-Cambodian People’s Party Cambodian Union Federation (CUF), said he was satisfied with the government’s recommendation.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said his organisation had not been officially informed about the government’s decision.

“We will support the recommendation of the government even though it may not be ideal for the industry at this point to have such a revision,” Loo said.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, noted that many unions had been asking for a more significant boost to the minimum wage, and that his own organisation had, in response to research commissioned last year, recommended that the minimum wage be raised to $71.99 a month.

As part of a study produced in September, researchers interviewed 300 garment workers, and concluded that they would need at least $71.99 a month to pay for basic needs such as food and shelter as well as remittances.

“They spend a lot of money on food, on medicine, on clothing, on rent and so on. Based on this, the minimum wage should be $71.99 a month,” Moeun Tola said. “If it is less than this, workers cannot survive.”

He warned that garment workers will shift to better-paying, but more dangerous professions in the entertainment industry if they see little improvement in their salaries.

New term for FTU head
Also Sunday, Chea Mony was granted a new three-year term as president of the FTU, despite having announced in May that he would step down because of health and personal reasons. He vowed Sunday to continue demanding higher salaries for his union’s members.



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