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Minimum wage talks begin

Labour Ministry Chief of Cabinet Heng Sour (centre) chairs a meeting to discuss increases to the Kingdom’s garment sector minimum wage yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Labour Ministry Chief of Cabinet Heng Sour (centre) chairs a meeting to discuss increases to the Kingdom’s garment sector minimum wage yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Minimum wage talks begin

Members of the tripartite Labour Advisory Committee – composed of representatives of the government, employers and unions – yesterday put forth their proposals for next year’s minimum wage for the garment and footwear sector, kicking off the annual negotiations that will culminate on October 5.

Every year the Labour Advisory Committee convenes to determine an increase to the sector’s base wage, with a 48-member subcommittee presenting each bloc’s preferred figures yesterday.

The government proposed a $162.67 monthly salary, slightly higher than the employers’ proposal of $161. The unions, meanwhile, proposed $176.25, a more than 15 percent increase from the current $153 wage, which includes a now routine $5 bump decreed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The figures will ultimately be presented for a final vote by a 28-member committee – 14 members from the government’s side, and seven each from employers and unions.

This year’s wage negotiations come after Prime Minister Hun Sen – currently on a weekslong charm offensive to woo garment workers – announced that next year’s wage will be more than $160. He has repeated the promise in recent speeches and during visits to factories and industrial parks in and around Phnom Penh.

Ministry of Labour Chief of Cabinet Heng Sour, who chaired the meeting, said the government’s proposed figure was only for reference, adding that it was up to the employers and unions to find a middle ground on next year’s wage.

“We provide it just as basic reference for both parties to agree on a closer number,” he said “Because it is the employer party who has to pay the wage and workers who will receive it.”

He said the hope was that the “big gap” between the two proposals would become smaller in coming meetings.

While all sides have used a 3.5 percent inflation figure provided by the National Institute of Statistics, Ken Loo, secretary-general for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said employers had also factored in a small increase for productivity.

The bump, he said, was “based on the way the Ministry of Labour has presented” improvements to productivity. He added that he was hopeful the final figure would be close to their proposal and declined comment on the union’s $176 demand.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, which had last month called for a $223 base wage, said the $176 figure was a unanimous proposal put forth by all unions involved.

“With the current situation, we cannot do more. And within the unions’ discussions there were many more pro-government unions, so we have to agree,” he said.

Chhuon Momthol, president of the pro-government Cambodia Confederation of Trade Union, did not comment on yesterday’s proceedings, though Tep Kimvannary, president of the government-aligned Cambodian Federation Independent Trade Union, said the employers’ proposal of a 5 percent increase was too low.

“We want at least 10 percent. The unions still feel 5 percent is low,” she said.

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