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Hoped-for minimum wage accord no closer

Employees work at a garment factory in Phnom Penh last year. Yesterday’s minimum wage talks failed to reach an agreement after employers offered to raise the minimum wage by $4.80 in 2016.
Employees work at a garment factory in Phnom Penh last year. Yesterday’s minimum wage talks failed to reach an agreement after employers offered to raise the minimum wage by $4.80 in 2016. Vireak Mai

Hoped-for minimum wage accord no closer

On a day some hoped would see the announcement of a final minimum wage for garment workers, unions and employers instead remain entrenched as ever, with management’s latest offer to boost their previous proposal by 32 cents slammed as “nothing” by one union.

Employers yesterday increased their offer for 2016’s minimum wage from $132.48 – or 3.5 per cent higher than the current $128 minimum – to $132.80. On Friday, unions agreed to lower their target to about $164 from the $168 they had originally settled on following weeks of quarrelling.

“The result of the meeting [on Monday] was reached only for employers. For us, unions and workers, it is nothing,” said Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Coalition.

Saly said that given the unions’ most recent concession, the employers’ offer was “very unfair” and a “very small [number] that we cannot accept”.

Saly added that unions would only concede further ground if employers offered a more significant increase.

“We have a plan for minimum wage negotiations – we will decrease more only if the employers agree to increase more,” he said.

However, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the employers’ 32 cent increase was “realistic” given that the first figure employers calculated internally when talks began would have resulted in a decrease in the minimum wage.

Employers have long argued another raise would wreck Cambodia’s low-margin textile industry.

Still, Loo said no proposal should be given too much stock due to the role of the government’s Labour Advisory Committee in approving the final number.

“It’s just part of the back-and-forth of the negotiations, so there’s nothing much to comment about until the ultimate position is made [by the government].”

A Ministry of Labour press release from September said the final minimum wage agreed upon by unions, factories and the government would be announced yesterday, while ministry spokesman Heng Sour predicted last week it would come before the Pchum Ben holidays begin on October 11.

Sour said late on Friday that both parties remained far from a compromise, although he retained optimism that a number would be settled on this week.

William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Center, said employers were drawing out the process for their own advantage.

“I think [employers] are playing a waiting game and hoping that the unions don’t get consensus and don’t hold firm and that they’ll continue to reduce their number,” he said.

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