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Deadlock over wage talks

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Garment workers sew sweatshirts and check for defects at a factory in Phnom Penh in 2013. Pha Lina

Deadlock over wage talks

The first round of a tripartite meeting to negotiate a new minimum wage for garment and footwear workers ended in a deadlock on Monday.

Trade unions, employers, and the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training officials tried to hammer out a new wage scheme for thousands of workers in the industry, but could not reach an agreement on the quantum.

The unions, led by Ath Thon, Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union president, demanded $211.94 as the minimum wage for next year. But pro-government unions shot it down.

The current minimum wage is fixed at $170 per month for each worker.

The Kingdom’s garment industry employs about 700,000 workers, mostly women.

Thon said initial discussions failed to produce any positive results and the stakeholders involved requested for more time to deliberate on the matter.

The ministry had proposed an increase of four per cent or $7 from this year’s minimum wage of $170, but pro-government unions rejected the proposal, he said.

“We asked for $ 211.94 [as the new minimum wage] at the meeting, but some unions which supported the government said they could not agree."

“Some said they needed more time to discuss the matter. We have not discussed it in depth because they asked for the figure to be lowered, while the companies asked the government to carry out some reforms. They have not expressed their positions yet,” he said.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia’s deputy secretary-general Kiang Monika said it was difficult to reach consensus in the first meeting.

During the discussion, the parties considered key factors as such as working conditions, prevailing economic and political climate as well as other indicators like inflation and the cost of living.

“All parties will meet again on September 14 to agree on a suitable figure and we will then forward it to senior officials,” said Monika.

Thon said his union decided the minimum wage based on seven criteria – worker’s family status, cost of living, inflation, labour productivity, country’s competitiveness, labour market conditions and profits from the sector.

At the same time, the unions used four different research findings and came up with four different sets of wages – $192.67, $211.94, $221.013 and $286.

Finally, the team agreed that $211.94 will be a suitable amount for next year.

He said even though the unions asked for a two per cent increase, employers still have the capacity to make profits from their businesses.

This year, the minimum wage for garment industry workers was increased to $170 per month and if other benefits were added they could take home about $187 every month.

The government negotiation team, led by the ministry’s spokesperson Heng Sour, is involved in the mediation to come up with a right figure that is acceptable to all parties.

The outcome will then be presented to the Labour Advisory Committee for consideration.

Heng Sour said the ministry introduced the tripartite negotiation system in 2014 to give an opportunity to unions, employers and the government to voice their opinions on minimum wage before it becomes law.

The negotiations were held at the ministry’s office.

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