About 600,000 workers in the lucrative garment and footwear industries, roughly 95 per cent of the sector’s work force, will soon take home an extra US$10 a month, the Ministry of Labour said yesterday.
Barely an hour after a protest involving garment workers at the capital’s Freedom Park erupted into violence (see story on page 3), the ministry announced at about 11am it had struck a deal with employers to pay workers the bonuses beginning Sept 1.
Minister of Labour Vong Sauth said employees would receive a transport or accommodation allowance of $7 per month and $3 per month on top of their existing attendance bonus.
“First, the employers agreed to provide $9 per month, but on behalf of the government, I asked the employer to add $1 more,” he said.
Cambodia’s garment exports exceeded $1 billion in the first quarter of this year.
Garment workers currently receive a minimum wage of $61 per month, an attendance bonus of $7 and a health bonus of $5, meaning workers could take home $83 per month under the new agreement.
Yesterday’s deal came after Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, threatened last month to stage a mass strike if demands for an extra $30 per month were not met.
When contacted yesterday, Mony claimed not to have heard about the decision.
“I will not have a problem if their decision is what I requested, but there will be a problem if it is different,” he said, refusing to say whether this meant the strike could still happen.
Twenty-six representatives from unions, factories, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and the government voted on the agreement, which was accepted with just one objection, from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU).
C.CAWDU and Cambodian Labor Confederation president Ath Thorn told the Post yesterday he could not support the deal.
“The workers will not spend any of that money on a meal,” he said. “The factories should provide good, hygienic rice that can help workers get more energy,” he said, adding, however, that he had agreed not to strike next month.
Thorn said that 5 per cent of workers will not receive the transportation bonus because they are already provided with free accommodation and transport by their employers.
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said the agreement sounded promising.
“For me, it says that obviously there is room to have this kind of negotiation without brands fleeing and the industry collapsing,” he said.
Welsh said negotiations had followed a speech from Prime Minister Hun Sen last month calling on the ministry to act on workers’ bonuses and the long-awaited trade-union law, which has been with the Council of Ministers in draft form since November.
But Welsh said increases in wages were effective only if workers were protected from unfair price increases at the hands of landowners and food vendors who had a monopoly near factories.
“The problem with the garment industry, is that most of its workers are from out of town and live near their factories and eat in the same areas,” he said, adding that the government could introduce rent control to ensure inflated prices didn’t cancel out workers’ benefits.
Van Sou Ieng, chairman of GMAC, said extra benefits would cost factories a total of $6 million per month.
“I’m OK to accept this today, but I am not happy with the unions, because they push the workers to strike, which causes the companies to lose money,” he said.
Nang Sothy, a representative of the employers, said factories would also provide a financial incentive to workers not to strike, but he would not say how much it would be.
To contact the reporter on this story: Mom Kunthear at [email protected]
With assistance from Shane Worrell