A group of garment factory employees ride to their workplace on the back of a remorque. Cambodia's textile sector employs nearly 300,000 young women, many of whom moved to Phnom Penh from rural areas in the provinces to earn funds for their families.
Final proposals have been exchanged for the muchanticipated wage talks between the
Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and garment and shoe factory
unions, scheduled to begin next week.
Tensions have been running high between the parties this year, as the unions push
for a higher minimum wage, and strikes have been threatened. GMAC has agreed to come
to the negotiation table and 17 garment and shoe factory unions have formed the Inter-federation
Committee (IC) specifically for the talks, which will be facilitated by the International
Labor Organization (ILO) and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity
A range of issues will be discussed at the talks, which begin on September 11, but
the most pressing is the basic minimum wage, which the IC wants to see raised from
the current $45 per month to $82. In a recent press release GMAC said no other Cambodian
industry uses a minimum-wage system, that several other relevant Asian countries
had lower minimum wage figures, and that Cambodian workers had to accept salaries
their employers could afford so the industry could remain competitive in the global
Ken Loo, secretary general of GMAC, told the Post the final proposals, submitted
on August 31, may not ever be made public and that the media would have to wait until
after the September 11 talks to have any further comment on the issue.
But IC secretary Noun Chantha said GMAC's final proposal on the minimum wage was
a $2 monthly raise - from $45 to $47 in the first year of employment and from $47
to $49 in the second. GMAC had also proposed a $2 boost to the base salary - from
$49 to $51-for the third year and above. Chantha said the IC would want to negotiate
and clarify these figures but he declined further comment until after the talks.
Chantha said GMAC also proposed to discuss the issues of illegal strikes, unions
with the greatest representation and management rights for products. He said he was
unclear about what GMAC meant specifically about these issues.
Alonzo Suson, country program director of the ACILS, said it was not for his organization
to interpret these proposals and that neither party had met to discuss them with
the ILO or ACILS since they were released on August 31.
"I think they are on track. They've been asking for technical advice from the
ILO and TWARO [Textile Workers' Asian Regional Organization]," Suson said.
"They're both very serious about keeping the garment industry in Cambodia thriving.
It's 40 percent of the country's economic engine. There'll be more clarification
after September 11."
Chantha said that, as well as the basic minimum wage, the IC would also discuss wages
for trainee and skilled workers, bonuses, working conditions, reduction of working
hours, the punishment of factories abusing the law, and strikes.
"Both parties are going to be bargaining and there will be some bottom lines,"
Suson had said at the time of the announcement of the talks.
"Definitely the industry has the ability to increase the wages; it's a question
of how much," Suson said. "GMAC recognizes that $45 is not enough, and
they're willing to negotiate. The government has made a commitment to lessening the
bureaucracy so the industry can blossom. If that is actually implemented and other
issues like corruption can be taken care of, profits can actually go to the workers."
Chanda said the IC had now chosen its representatives for the talks. They were Chantha
himself, president of the Dhama Thipaktay Federation Union; Ath Thun, president of
the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union; and Vong Sovan, president
of the Cambodian Workers Labor Federation Union.