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Minimum wage talks kick off in Phnom Penh

People attend a tripartite meeting at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training on Friday in Phnom Penh to discuss the garment industry’s minimum wage. Photo supplied
People attend a tripartite meeting at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training on Friday in Phnom Penh to discuss the garment industry’s minimum wage. Photo supplied

Minimum wage talks kick off in Phnom Penh

The Labour Ministry put forth a suggested figure of $148.20 for next year’s minimum wage as tripartite wage talks started on Friday, leading some unions to say that they would consider lowering their demand of $179 in hopes of reaching a compromise.

Kicking off the negotiations, 16 representatives each from the government, employers and unions attended the first tripartite meeting in Phnom Penh, where the ministry said it was only offering stakeholders their estimate of increases in the seven criteria used to determine Cambodia’s minimum wage, which currently stands at $140 a month.

“This is not the ministry’s figure. We are just looking at the change in each of the criteria, and it is 5.83 per cent,” said ministry spokesman Heng Sour of the $148.20 number, which was far closer to the one recently floated by factory representatives.

The ministry estimate was based on seven economic and social factors including cost of living, inflation, productivity and impact on employment.

In the run-up to Friday’s meeting, 16 major unions had proposed a $179.60 monthly wage, based on their own cost of living research, with the employers’ association using a 3 per cent inflation benchmark to target $144.20 for 2017.

Initially aligned with the major unions, the Free Trade Union broke away from the group to put forth its own proposal of $183.

Sour added that it was up to the unions and the Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia to consider the ministry’s estimate and reach a compromise.

The ministry also met with the unions separately after the tripartite discussions on Friday and will meet GMAC today, with Sour saying that the ministry was looking to listen to their rationale for next year’s wage increase.

“We are not trying to find a final figure. We are trying to understand their reasons,” Sour said.

However, Friday’s meeting has led some unions to rethink their proposal, with the Collective Union of Movement of Workers’ president, Pav Sina, saying the significant difference between the three wage proposals could lead unions to bring down their demand.

“Our union will discuss whether to bring down the number from $179.60,” Sina said yesterday. “We do not know yet [if this will happen], but it could be lowered.”

His sentiment was shared by Tep Kimvanary, president of the Cambodia Federation Independent Trade Union, who said no union would be forced to agree to a lower proposal but that they needed to find a wage that would be acceptable to all.

William Conklin, head of labour advisory group Solidarity Center, said this was “just the beginning of the talks” and hoped that the stakeholders could reach a figure that satisfies workers.

Chiming in on the wage debate, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said he supported a $180 wage for workers, given that the current wage of $140 was not “liveable”, and that the high cost of living and poor quality of social services made it difficult for workers to get by.

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