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Unions agree to push for $177 wage at meet

Garment factory workers march along Veng Sreng Boulevard in Phnom Penh
Garment factory workers march along Veng Sreng Boulevard in Phnom Penh last year during a protest calling for the industry minimum wage to be raised to $177. Hong Menea

Unions agree to push for $177 wage at meet

Leaders of several independent garment-worker unions yesterday agreed that they will again push for a $177 monthly minimum wage next year, with negotiations officially slated to begin next month, according to the head of Cambodia’s largest independent garment union.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) and the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said that the consensus was reached during a meeting of union leaders at the labour rights group Solidarity Center’s office.

The gathering included about 20 union leaders from C.CAWDU, Collective Union of Movement of Workers, Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions and other independent unions, Thorn said.

“I think [we will] start with this amount, and we can decrease that amount,” said Thorn, who admitted that he doubted garment workers will receive a $177 per month floor wage.

“Normally, the government and companies want to give less . . . and unions want to get more.”

Labour unions last year unsuccessfully campaigned for the same amount, ultimately settling for $128 a month, a $28 increase from 2014.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Talks in 2013 to set the minimum wage for 2014 sparked a 10-day national strike, that ended after authorities shot dead at least five protesters during a violent demonstration.

Compared to that, last year’s talks on the 2015 wage were relatively sedate, said Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center, though that may change this year.

“If the cost of living is increasing and workers can’t stay ahead of that, I think we’re going to see a large [pushback],” Preston said yesterday.

Free Trade Union president Chea Mony did not attend yesterday’s meeting, and has not landed on an exact figure to support, but said “the lowest amount that I would be willing to accept is between $170 and $180 per month”.

But $177 per month is unreasonable, and much higher than other competing garment manufacturing countries, said Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia.

“Current levels are high, and we are not competitive with current levels,” he said.

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