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Unions balk at floated figure

An employee measures lengths of material to be made into garments at a factory in Phnom Penh last year.
An employee measures lengths of material to be made into garments at a factory in Phnom Penh last year. Vireak Mai

Unions balk at floated figure

Garment worker unions yesterday decried a preliminary, government-suggested increase to the minimum wage as being far too close to what they perceive as a lowball offer from employers.

As tripartite wage talks continue, unions yesterday said officials from the government's Labour Advisory Committee had on Tuesday offered a 5.7 per cent increase on the current minimum wage.

That figure, which amounts to a jump of slightly more than $7 based on the current minimum wage of $128 per month, is not much different from the increase suggested by employers of 3.5 per cent, or slightly under $4.50.

Both numbers pale in comparison to the $168 a month, a more than 30 per cent jump, sought by unions.

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions condemned the government’s mooted number as far too little, even though it was unlikely to be the final official figure, which will be decided early this month.

“I think that the Ministry of Labour official Heng Sour took the side of the employers, because he put pressure on unions by trying to convince us to decrease our figure, although he did not try to convince employers to increase theirs, Sophorn said, adding that unions wouldn’t budge from their demand of $168 yet, a figure unions only settled on this week after prolonged quarrelling.

“We will keep our same stance of $168 as the figure for the minimum wage in 2016, since the employers have kept their stance too,” she said.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday.

Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Coalition, said the LAC’s 5.7 per cent figure was unjust for Cambodian workers.

“The LAC is not an independent committee,” he said.

According to Saly, the unions arrived at $168 using last year’s increase from $100 to $128 as a benchmark.

“So this year, the minimum wage should at least increase between 20 and 25 per cent – that would be acceptable.”

In the third day of tripartite talks, unions and employers have yet to cede any ground to each other.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, declined to support the LAC’s suggested increase, but said it was “more realistic” than the unions’ $168 demand, which he described as an abstract figure conjured by unions with no connection to economic reality.

“They’re just making it up,” he said.

However, according to William Conklin, country director of the US-based Solidarity Center, the government’s offer “would not be enough to cover basic needs [of garment workers]”.

But Conklin said he believed the government will likely settle on an increase closer to 10 per cent to placate the international community.

“I assume that number would actually go up,” he said.

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