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Unions, GMAC at the table

An employee checks pieces of denim against a template last year at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Krom commune.
An employee checks pieces of denim against a template last year at a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Krom commune. Kimberley McCosker

Unions, GMAC at the table

Employer representatives and trade unions sat down across from each other for the first time yesterday for head-to-head negotiations over next year’s garment sector minimum wage, with factory owners reluctantly offering a small $2 increase to their earlier proposal of $144.20.

The two groups held a bilateral meeting at the Labour Ministry to exchange viewpoints on fluctuations in the calculations used to set next year’s wage, with discussions expected to continue today.

While 16 unions have gone into the negotiations asking for a $179.60 monthly wage, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) is pushing for a nominal increase of $4.20 to the current $140 wage.

“It was the first bilateral meeting with the unions and it was as good as it can be,” said GMAC spokesman Ken Loo. Despite offering a $2 increase to their initial offer, Loo said that GMAC was still hoping to keep wages close to its $144.20 proposal.

“Our official proposal is still $144.20. During negotiations, it is always a to-and-fro and different figures will be proposed, but we want to stick to our official proposal,” Loo added.

Cambodia Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn attributed GMAC’s $2 increase to their upping the inflation criteria from 3 per cent to 3.7 per cent, adding that while unions were considering lowering their own proposal, nothing had been decided yet.

The Labour Ministry uses seven economic and social factors to determine every year’s minimum wage, such as inflation, cost of living and productivity.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said employers gave two main reasons – high competitiveness in the global market and high input costs – as the reasons why they couldn’t increase wages any higher.

“They said this is all they can give and these were the difficulties [holding them back],” he added.

He said while the unions were willing to bring down their wage number, they wanted employer representatives to accurately account for changes in the seven criteria. Ahead of the negotiations, GMAC said they had only accounted for inflation to make their proposal.

On hearing about the ongoing negotiations, Keo Chomnan, a worker from Kampong Cham province’s Bloomsfield factory, said workers needed a higher wage because they could not make ends meet.

“The current minimum wage cannot sustain the livelihoods of workers, because the price of commodities is constantly increasing,” she said.

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