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Date set for wage-reform talks

Garment workers march towards the Ministry of Labour during a demonstration last year to demand the industry’s minimum wage be raised to $160
Garment workers march towards the Ministry of Labour during a demonstration last year to demand the industry’s minimum wage be raised to $160. Vireak Mai

Date set for wage-reform talks

The first phase of promised minimum wage reform is set to begin later this month, when representatives of workers, employers and the government will hash out ideas on how to set a base salary for the garment sector, in a move meant to avert labour unrest like the kind that rattled the country in January.

In an announcement released on Friday, the Ministry of Labour invited members of its Labour Advisory Committee, union representatives and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) to participate in initial talks scheduled for April 24 and 25.

“In essence, this discussion isn’t something about the figure of the minimum wage, but rather focusing on the principles to be used to set the minimum wage,” said Tun Sophorn, national project director for the International Labour Organization (ILO), which the government commissioned as technical advisers.

Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng enlisted the ILO’s help to put in place a minimum wage-setting mechanism after a nationwide garment worker strike erupted following a ministry decision to raise the figure for the garment sector from $80 (including a $5 health bonus) to $100, rather than the $160 unions demanded.

The strike ended after police cracked down on demonstrations on January 2 and 3, killing at least four and arresting 23.

After the groups come up with a wage-setting formula amenable to all, Sophorn said, an independent researcher will in May study how the agreed-upon formula can best be implemented. By the year’s third quarter, all parties will consult and sign off on a specific amount.

Getting all stakeholders together for a conversation on minimum wage reform and setting a specific road map for achieving it is a step in the right direction, Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said.

But the effort strikes him as too little too late, since it comes after workers were injured, arrested and killed during the January strike, he said, adding that a wage raise is needed immediately.

“I think the Ministry of Labour intends on dragging out the discussion on minimum wage,” he said. “It will take them until the end of the year, which is the opposite of our desire.”

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