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GMAC floats ‘no strike’ bonus

A woman works in a garment factory folding material in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district
A woman works in a garment factory folding material in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in September. Hong Menea

GMAC floats ‘no strike’ bonus

Rather than offering a large, across-the-board raise for its factory workers, members of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) yesterday offered up a novel alternative, paying them not to strike.

If garment and shoe factories offered employees a bonus on the condition they do not take part in strikes unsanctioned by the government, workers would earn more and factory management would likely deal with fewer strikes, GMAC executive committee chairman Van Sou Ieng told the GMAC conference held at NagaWorld.

“It’s the same as increasing wages,” Ieng said to a room filled with factory managers. “This is an increase of the minimum wage [and] it’s directly given to the workers.”

Workers would receive a nominal minimum wage increase, with the larger anti-strike incentive.

Those in garment and shoe factories across Cambodia began receiving a minimum monthly wage of $75 in May, after the Ministry of Social Affairs announced the $14 raise in March. A study released by UK-based NGO Labour Behind the Label and local rights group Equitable Cambodia in September reported the living wage for a person in Cambodia is $150 per month.

The Ministry of Labour is scheduled to announce another minimum wage rise for the Kingdom’s apparel industry by next month.

A direct incentive for workers to remain at their posts when unions representing them want to go on strike would counteract the lack of consequences faced by workers who strike without first exhausting all other options, Ieng said.

“You think workers will not fight [unions]?” Ieng asked, suggesting that employees fearful of losing the monetary incentive would be less apt to join an unsanctioned strike. “They will kill to keep from losing their bonuses.”

Calling the idea “ludicrous”, Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Centre, said tying wage incentives to strikes is not a common practice. He added that illegal strikes typically occur as a result of factory managers’ refusal to negotiate with their employees.

“[Factories] can’t refuse to engage workers … and wonder why strikes happen so often,” Welsh said, pointing out that managers often ignore labour-law requirements surrounding fixed-duration contracts and other tenets.

“[Strikes] happen mostly because the management refuses to abide by the labour law.”

The idea also surprised Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of the Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union.

“This is the way that destroys the industry,” said Athit, who added that unions would never accept the proposal.

A working group composed of unions, GMAC and government officials will meet at the Ministry of Labour this morning to discuss the minimum wage rise.

GMAC members also voiced their opposition to the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia’s plan to begin publicly disclosing factories’ labour law violations starting next month.

BFC currently writes confidential reports on conditions in export factories and brands can buy these reports.

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