LABOUR Ministry officials have urged garment workers not to strike, after a prominent union leader threatened to do so as part of a campaign to raise the sector’s minimum wage.
In a letter addressed “to all workers” and sent to the Post Thursday, the ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee warned that union members should consider launching a strike only after attempts at agreeing on a new minimum wage have been exhausted.
“The Labour Advisory Committee would like to call for all workers to practise their rights properly, according to the law,” reads the letter, which was signed by Labour Minister Vong Soth.
The letter comes after Chea Mony, the head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), threatened to strike if the ministry and an industry association, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), failed to respond to union requests to boost garment workers’ minimum wages to US$70 per month from the current $50.
Union representatives and employers previously agreed to renegotiate minimum-wage standards in garment factories by the end of this year.
But Chea Mony said Thursday that his union’s 86,000 workers can’t afford to wait.
“If we keep waiting for negotiations, one year will be lost uselessly,” said Chea Mony, who called the potential strike his “last achievement in helping workers” before his planned departure from the union at the end of the month.
He said the strike is still a possibility, but that he will wait for a response from GMAC before setting a date.
But it appears not everyone in the Kingdom’s vast labour movement is on the same page.
Tep Kim Vannary, president of the Cambodian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (CFITU), said she would not support a strike because negotiations with employers have yet to begin.
Kong Atith, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), said that he regards a strike as a “last choice”.
The demands of the CFITU and the CCAWDU also differ from the FTU. Instead of $70 per month, both unions are asking for wages of $93.
Ken Loo, GMAC’s secretary-general, urged patience in advance of negotiations.
“We have till the end of the year to complete such negotiations and as such, have a good seven months left,” Loo said in an email, describing the current situation as a “preparatory phase”.
He said the multitude of unions in the sector – there were 237 operating in the garment sector alone last year, according to an International Labour Organisation report – complicates the situation.
“It is close to impossible when GMAC has to deal with negotiating with so many unions who each have different demands,” Loo said.
One industry observer said the various unions must be in agreement if they hope to secure satisfactory concessions for their members.
“The unions should be united in order to get one voice and have specific proposals,” said Moeun Tola, the head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre.
He, too, said the FTUWKC threats may be premature in light of the fact that negotiations have not even begun.
“The unions have the right to strike and the right to protest, but that should be the last option in my opinion,” he said. “There have been no consultations or negotiations ... yet.”