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Council to weigh garment salaries

A garment worker counts and folds finished fleece jackets at a garment factory in Kandal’s Takhmao district in 2013. Today the LAC will finalise the new garment industry minimum wage.
A garment worker counts and folds finished fleece jackets at a garment factory in Kandal’s Takhmao district in 2013. Today the LAC will finalise the new garment industry minimum wage. Scott Howes

Council to weigh garment salaries

The government’s Labour Advisory Council will this afternoon consider three separate wage proposals, ranging from $147 to $171, before determining next year’s minimum wage for the garment sector after a final tripartite meeting yesterday resulted in no consensus.

After months of discussions and negotiations, the wage-setting body will be presented with two newly revised figures from the trade unions and employer representatives – $171 and $147, respectively – as well as the Labour Ministry’s unchanged proposal of $148.20.

Going into the negotiations, the unions initially put forth a $179.60 minimum wage, which was then reduced to $177.50 two weeks ago after employer representatives upped their initial $144.20 wage proposal to $146.37.

Yesterday’s decision to send three wage figures for consideration marks a departure from the last two years, when voting rules saw only two proposals sent to the LAC.

Despite the fact that a three-month-long deliberation resulted in no consensus and that three separate numbers are being sent, the process itself remained relevant and beneficial, said ministry spokesman Heng Sour.

“You see the figures have changed from time to time. This was a good opportunity for all parties to explain to and understand each other,” he said.

While unions and employers were relieved to have turned in their final proposals, those spoken to yesterday remained anxious about today’s outcome. Chhuon Momthol, head of the pro-government Cambodia Worker Labour Federation Union, said that he was still optimistic of getting close to the $160 mark.

“I think that they [Labor Advisory Committee] will not increase over 10 percent, which means it will be raised to $150, or somewhere less than $160,” he said.

He also expressed hope that Prime Minister Hun Sen might intervene as he has in the past two years, and mandate that workers receive an additional $5 to the LAC’s recommendation.

Reacting to Momthol’s hoped-for $160, prominent union leader Ath Thorn said it was still far below unions’ expectations, but conceded some workers may find it reasonable.

He added that he was relieved that unions presented a unified front this year. “I am happy that the union representatives have decided to give only one figure, not like last time where we wanted separate proposals,” he said.

Last year, independent unions walked out of the final tripartite meeting when they said pro-government unions were veering towards the government’s wage figure. However, employer representative Enjoy Ho yesterday said he was “afraid” the government would heed the unions and given them more than expected.

“In Cambodia, the minimum wage increase is political,” said Ho, who is vice chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia.

He also claimed that more than 150 factories had shut down this year because the fast pace of wage increases over the past two years had deterred buyers.

This figure is close to that in an ILO report, released this month, which said that 122 factories were “inactive”, citing Ministry of Commerce data, though the report data did not specify if the closures occurred this year.

But while GMAC stressed the number of factory closures, Chinese state media outlet Xinhua yesterday reported that Cambodian footwear and garment exports had increased 8.3 percent for the first seven months of 2016 – from $3.58 billion for the same period last year to $3.88 billion – despite claims from factories that orders were fast decreasing.

The Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts did not respond to requests for official statistics.

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