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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Wages do not compute: ILO

A garment worker holds a placard in front of the Ministry of Labour during a mass protest in Phnom Penh
A garment worker holds a placard in front of the Ministry of Labour during a mass protest in Phnom Penh earlier this year to demand a $160 minimum wage for the industry. Heng Chivoan

Wages do not compute: ILO

NGOs say the Ministry of Labour’s use of its own method for determining the garment industry’s minimum wage is risking a repeat of the tensions that exploded in violent protests in January, when authorities killed at least five people.

More than six months after the Labour Ministry commissioned the International Labour Organization to help set a formula to calculate the garment sector’s minimum wage, the advice has not been heeded, ILO national project coordinator Tun Sophorn said.

“For this year, [the Labour Ministry] will use their own way in terms of minimum wage setting,” Sophorn said.

The minimum wage in the garment industry stands at $100 per month.

A 10-day nationwide strike to demand $160 ended abruptly on January 3 when government forces opened fire on unruly demonstrators in Phnom Penh, killing at least five people. Afterwards, ministry officials told unions and international buyers that the ILO would assist them in coming up with a steady formula to annually determine the minimum wage.

But due to time constraints, Sophorn said, the ministry cannot implement a process based on objective data.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not respond to calls or a text message yesterday.

“It’s taken far too long already, and the urgency is great, and if their strategy is to say they didn’t have enough time . . . that boggles the mind, frankly,” said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.

Since a ministry task force already found a living wage to be $160 last year, the government can begin there and adjust each year for cost of living increases, said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center.

With no concrete method of setting wages and the decision officially resting with the ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee, Tola fears continued industrial unrest.

“I’m afraid industrial relations could not be resolved,” Tola said. “The mass [strikes] will happen just like late 2013 and early 2014.”

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