Concluding an uncharacteristically amicable three-month wage negotiation process, the government yesterday increased next year’s minimum wage for the garment sector from $140 to $153 a month – a figure far short of unions’ demands for $171.
The 28-member Labour Advisory Council (LAC) met yesterday afternoon to select one of the three figures – the employers’ $147 offer, the government’s recommendation of $148 and unions’ request for $171 – put forth after tripartite negotiations ended on Wednesday.
The council ultimately settled on the $148 proposal, which was then given a $5 boost by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The new wage will come into effect on January 2017 and will be applicable to the Kingdom’s 600,000 garment and footwear workers.
The unions’ previously unified front failed to hold in yesterday’s LAC vote, with only two independent unions backing the $171 demand. The other 22 members – including five pro-government unions – voted for the government’s proposed $148. Four government members were absent and therefore did not cast their votes.
“I think that this number does not meet 100 percent of your demand, but it is better than before and I hope that the workers will accept it,” said Labour Minister Ith Samheng.
This is the third year that Hun Sen has intervened and added $5 to the LAC’s recommendation, with ministry spokesman Heng Sour saying the government had the right to decide the final wage, taking into account the social well-being of workers.
Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn said he was far from satisfied at the $153 figure, which was considerably below his group’s wage request.
On Wednesday, Thorn had said he was “happy” that unions had presented a united front and pushed for the LAC to consider their $171 proposal. However, in a repeat of last year, pro-government unions again sided with Labour Ministry.
“At least the unions should vote for their own number,” he said. “If we represent the workers, but vote for others, are we the real representatives of the workers?”
Whether unions would consider the options of protests, Thorn said, would be determined by workers’ reaction to yesterday’s announcement.
Pro-government unionist Chhuon Momthol, meanwhile, defended his decision to vote with the government, saying the $171 figure had no chance of success, and that the new wage was in line with the expectations of his members.
“Workers had hoped to get only a $10 raise, which is $150. But, now it is $153 and the workers will be delighted,” Momthol said.
Van Sou Ieng, chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the roughly 9 percent increase in the wage was “on the high side, but acceptable”.
“This is a big increase as compared to the inflation figure for the last year,” he said. “But one has to accept the needs of our colleagues [workers] to have a better life.”
He said the garment market had been “tough” the last two years, and that workers needed to take calls for increased productivity “to heart” when making their wage demands.
Factory worker Chea Chansophea, of Kampong Chhnang, yesterday described the new wage as acceptable but added that she would follow her union’s lead if its members determined it was too low.
“If they do not find it to be enough, I will follow the union, because we are all under one roof,” she said.