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Group may slow wage talks

Garment workers protest for a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh last month
Garment workers protest for a higher minimum wage in Phnom Penh last month. Hong Menea

Group may slow wage talks

The new working group announced by Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng this week will likely retain a strong influence over the body that determines the minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment industry. It is unlikely, however, that the working group will prioritise a speedy resolution to negotiations.

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said yesterday that the 27-member group, made up of nine representatives of union, industry and government officials, will negotiate a palatable floor salary for next year without the strain of a tight deadline.

“The working group will keep negotiating, and if they are not approaching the particular number that will likely [be the] figure, they will keep on negotiating until they come up with a very rational number,” Sour said.

Unlike the Labour Ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), which ultimately decides the garment sector’s minimum wage, Sour said the working group will only consist of unions, employers and government officials who are directly involved with the garment industry. While the temporary working group will not directly decide 2015’s wage, their figure “might be the likely number” LAC members use as a template, Sour said.

LAC members were originally scheduled to reach a decision by October 10, but Sam Heng last week delayed this until an unspecified date next month

Forming the panel was probably the result of overwhelming unity among unions across the political spectrum in demanding a drastic hike in the monthly wage, which now sits at $100, said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“The pressure at this point is on the government and industry to move upwards,” he said.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has said that they can only afford to pay $110, plus a $10 attendance bonus and $7 for transportation and housing, making their total possible base salary offer $127. Prominent unions are asking for no less than $150.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo yesterday said they haven’t selected which members will sit on the working group.

Chuon Mom Thol, president of typically government-leaning Cambodian Union Federation, sits on both the working group and LAC. Since Ministry of Planning data calculated by the International Labour Organization shows Cambodia’s poverty line to be $120 per month, he said he believes neither union nor government officials on either body will accept a number below this figure.

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