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Union leaders given audience in parliament

Garment workers protest at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Sunday
Garment workers protest at the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Sunday, calling for a living wage. Pha Lina

Union leaders given audience in parliament

Union leaders stated their case for a minimum wage increase – and made threats to strike if their demands aren’t met – during an unprecedented meeting with ruling and opposition lawmakers at the National Assembly yesterday.

“It is so good that each party is interested in the problems of the workers,” said Fa Saly, president of National Trade Union Coalition, who spoke with the Post after the sit-down. “However, if the wages of workers increase to only $120 [per month], we cannot accept it, and will go on strike.”

Unions have campaigned for a floor wage raise of $77 from the current $100 monthly minimum. However, specific numbers have been publicly discussed less since the seven union members of the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee agreed to demand $150.

Exact wage levels were discussed during the roughly 90-minute meeting, said Ke Sovanroth, chair of the parliamentary committee that monitors labour issues. “We don’t want the workers to strike,” the opposition lawmaker said. “We will discuss this problem with Minister of Labour [Ith Sam Heng] tomorrow at 9am.”

Yesterday morning’s gathering took place a day after representatives of six unions led about 2,000 union supporters on a march from Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park to the embassies of the United States and European Union, ending at the National Assembly.

While the decision for next year’s floor salary lies with the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), not the National Assembly, a larger support base for raised wages could help sway members of the committee to agree upon a number that unions find suitable, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“I think the more pressure from stakeholders the better,” Welsh said yesterday, noting that even consensus among LAC unions is a new dynamic. “[This] show of real solidarity among unions of all political stripes … that’s historic in itself.”

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