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Labour unions eye minimum wage of $204-214 ahead of this month’s talks

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Garment workers on work at a factory in the captial’s Sen Sok district in a photo taken before the Covid-19 pandemic. Hong Menea

Labour unions eye minimum wage of $204-214 ahead of this month’s talks

Labour union heads have quoted preliminary figures for the 2023 minimum wage for textile-related sectors in the $204-214 range, up from this year’s $194, ahead of negotiations next month among the worker associations.

The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training similarly said in a notice that a series of internal meetings were scheduled for July to discuss next year’s minimum wage for the textile, garment, footwear, bags and travel goods sectors.

Bilateral and tripartite talks – between the government and representatives of employers and workers – are scheduled to begin in August, the notice said, adding that the National Council on Minimum Wage (NCMW) would convene a month later to finalise the minimum wage, which the ministry is to enact on January 1.

The NCMW comprises officials from the labour ministry, factory owner representatives, industry stakeholders and workers’ representatives from civil society organisations and trade unions.

Invoking Article 5 of the Law on Minimum Wage, the ministry called on all parties to base their internal deliberation process for a figure on formal data and reputable academic research on social criteria – such as household status, inflation rate and cost of living – and economic criteria, including productivity, competitiveness of the country, the labour market situation and sectoral profitability.

“All parties must follow the guidelines and measures of the Ministry of Health at all of its meetings and do their part to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 in Cambodia,” the ministry said.

Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) president Ath Thorn said that the CLC was set to convene on June 30 to discuss the results of a study on the needs of workers, and would focus on seven criteria during internal meetings, and those with trade unions and other partners in July.

With the Covid-19 pandemic waning and more experts deliberating the issue than in any year from 2019-2021, Thorn said wage negotiation prospects are sanguine due to the potential of the industry, heightened spending among its employees amid an uptrend in goods prices, and the fact that 2023 is a general election year, “which could compel politicians to consider the worker”.

Primary research has found that workers spend from $250-300 a month, he said, suggesting that trade unions could propose a $214 minimum wage for 2023, up from $194 in 2022.

National Trade Union Coalition (NTUC) president Far Saly admitted that the NTUC had yet to set a concrete day for internal talks. Still, she expects the minimum wage to be no less than $204, citing inflation and economic growth projections.

Sam Chenda, a worker at Yuli Factory in Svay Rieng province, argued that the current minimum wage was a tad low, making it difficult to afford daily necessities due to the soaring prices.

He voiced optimism that the labour ministry and government, employers, trade unions and relevant organisations would understand the plight of the worker and raise the minimum wage to $214 to “help us live a bit more comfortable life and allow us to afford the prices of goods and rented rooms”.

Bou Sokuntheavy, a worker at Xin Yingwei Factory in northern Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district, also expects a decent rise in the minimum wage, but stopped short of citing a figure.

“I want more, but would not yet dare say how much. Let us wait and see what happens during the negotiations, and the decisions made among the parties siding with the worker – they’ve always demanded high numbers for us workers,” she said.

Last year, the NCMW had initially voted to keep the 2022 minimum wage for these sectors unchanged from $192 in 2021, until Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped in to add $2 to the total, making it $194 per month.

On September 28, the council took a vote on three competing minimum wages proposed for 2022. The workers’ representatives requested $204, the employers and industry representatives offered $188 and the compromise figure of $192.

The votes tallied up to 45 in favour of the $192 wage, six for the $204 figure and no votes cast at all for the employers’ proposal that the minimum pay be lowered to $188.

In an announcement issued after the vote, the ministry said Hun Sen was adding another $2 to the $192 figure, of which the council overwhelmingly voted in favour.


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