LABOUR leader Chea Mony announced yesterday that he was abandoning plans for a three-day strike against a newly approved garment sector minimum wage increase.
In a meeting of 125 worker representatives of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Chea Mony, the union’s president, said the planned strike, which was to start tomorrow, would not go forward.
Last Thursday, he slammed the decision by the Labour Advisory Committee to institute what amounted to an $11 bump in the minimum wage – an increase that some union leaders have said was not enough to meet workers’ needs.
Yesterday, however, he said he found the increase acceptable.
“I agreed with the government’s decision to approve a minimum wage increase for workers,” Chea Mony said Sunday. “My workers can accept this wage as well.”
But Chea Mony said he would push for further concessions from employers, including pay adjustments for senior workers who will not directly benefit from the minimum wage boost, and a review of the LAC’s decision to place a moratorium on minimum wage discussions until 2014.
He also said he would ask the main industry employers’ group, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, to discuss the FTU’s concerns, and threatened to stage a strike if no meeting were granted.
Ken Loo, GMAC’s secretary general, said it was likely GMAC would hear the union’s position, but he said any decision on additional wage adjustments must be made by the government.
“Negotiations cannot be conducted with individual unions,” Loo said. “In the end, how will it apply to the whole industry?”
News of Chea Mony’s strike reversal Sunday divided other leaders in the Kingdom’s expansive labour movement, which last year included at least 237 garment-sector unions alone.
No union consensus
Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said he was “ashamed” of Chea Mony, having previously thrown his support behind him.
“I regret to hear that Chea Mony has cancelled his strike plans,” Ath Thun said. “He was very forceful when he announced it, but now he is cancelling it. It shows he is not taking a firm stand.”
He said he would ask City Hall for permission to hold a large public meeting on July 25, during which he planned to push for consensus on the minimum wage increase. If the majority of workers were displeased, he said, his union would call for a strike.
Mom Nhim, president of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia, said many of her members also were not satisfied with the increase, and vowed to support a strike if the majority deemed it unacceptable.
She said she didn’t understand Chea Mony’s decision to call off his strike plans.
“He has never cooperated with other unions,” she said. “Chea Mony makes decisions on his own.”
Chuon Mumthol, president of the Cambodian Union Federation, which is aligned with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, suggested that Chea Mony abandoned his strike plan because he was afraid it would not receive wide support.
“He knows that no one will join him if he continues the strike,” Chuon Mumthol said.
Alonzo Suson, the country programme director for the Solidarity Centre, a nonprofit that supports trade unions, said Chea Mony’s strike threats appeared to be part of an ongoing “competition” involving the Kingdom’s many unions.
Chea Mony had been vocal in his support of a minimum wage boost to $70, while other unions had demanded $93. With the LAC eventually deciding to boost the wage to $61 from $50, Chea Mony could argue that he was the most effective in his advocacy, Suson said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY