Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unions reveal garment minimum wage goal for 2017




Unions reveal garment minimum wage goal for 2017

Garment factory workers protest in Phnom Penh in 2014 in an unsuccessful bid for a minimum wage of $177 a month. Unions this year will be pushing for a wage of $179.60.
Garment factory workers protest in Phnom Penh in 2014 in an unsuccessful bid for a minimum wage of $177 a month. Unions this year will be pushing for a wage of $179.60. Hong Menea

Unions reveal garment minimum wage goal for 2017

With annual wage talks just around the corner, a joint group of independent and government-affiliated garment worker unions has informed the Ministry of Labour they plan to target a new minimum wage of about $180 for the Kingdom’s key export industry.

The new figure, which was identified in a letter delivered to the ministry on Friday, represents a nearly 30 per cent increase from the current $140, which includes an additional $5 mandated by Prime Minister Hun Sen after last year’s negotiations had concluded.

The letter sets the groundwork for a series of meetings to begin on Saturday between unions, the government and employer representatives, including the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), to determine the 2017 minimum wage. The tripartite meetings will conclude in January.

“All of the unions now agree that the final figure that will be sent to the Ministry of Labour to begin negotiations is $179.60. This figure will be presented as the minimum wage for the garment and footwear industries,” confirmed Som Aun, president of the National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NACC).

The letter was signed by 17 unions, including the NACC, the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

Union representatives say they settled on the final figure after carefully analysing the cost of living for workers and their families using data from a handful of independent researchers and government-issued economic criteria.

“We hope that all parties in the negotiations accept our figure, because this is what we came to after studying the cost of living for workers who need to support their families,” said National Trade Union Coalition president Far Saly. “This figure could ensure good living conditions in this society.”

In the lead-up to last year’s wage negotiations, garment workers settled on a very similar figure – $177 a month – as a starting point from which to launch discussions. But by the time September rolled around, the consensus had fallen apart, with a majority of unions supporting $158 and at least one independent union pushing for $178.

Unions were ultimately forced to settle for the substantially lower wage of $140.

But the new bid for $180 comes in the wake of an International Labour Organization report that determined Cambodia’s garment industry will need to either boost productivity or keep wages low if it is to maintain its competitive edge.

“At US$140 per month, the 2016 minimum wage is slightly higher than the estimated wage required to meet the poverty line,” the ILO determined.

Similarly, GMAC has long blamed high wages for factory closures, and recently said rising wages were responsible for about 70 factories closing in 2016 alone, a figure questioned by government officials and union leaders alike.

Still, some labour experts argue that workers are being unfairly blamed for the industry’s shortcomings. “Wages are only part of the overall production costs, and unions and workers are somehow blamed for making the industry less competitive,” said William Conklin, country director at the labour advocacy NGO Solidarity Center. “Cambodia has high energy rates and shipping costs, and until those are dealt with, that will make the industries less competitive.”

Employers often fail to invest in new equipment or train employees, both of which would help develop the manufacturing sector and boost its competitiveness, Conklin added.

Meanwhile, some argue the industry should alter entirely the way it determines wage hikes. Instead of revaluating the minimum wage each year, unions and managers should engage in effective bargaining year round, according to a new report released by the peer-reviewed International Journal of Economics this month. In any event, the report argues, Cambodia’s unions and garment sector employers need to change the way they work with one another.

“Unions and employers in Cambodia often do not have the knowledge or tools to engage in dialogue and dispute prevention measures including collective bargaining,” reads the report, written by researchers from Cambodia’s University of Technology.

The report also pointed to the large number of unions as one of the reasons behind their inability to effectively bargain.

“In the garment industry of Cambodia, where unionisation is estimated at 60%, the effectiveness of having so many unions is questionable, leaves many unions weak, under-funded, competing with one another and subject to corruption and political interference,” the report reads.

Still, ministry officials are optimistic the negotiations will lead to consensus. “The ministry hopes the negotiation process to increase the minimum wage for garment workers in 2017 will be good and that all of the parties will accept a figure that will help both workers and factory stability,” said Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng.

GMAC could not be reached yesterday.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • First ‘mobile kitchen’ in Cambodia enters service

    A catering company recently rolled out Cambodia’s first “mobile kitchen” – a $50,000 container capable of serving up to 200 people at a time. The kitchen is the brainchild of Seng Hok Heng Catering Services. At 4.4m-high, 6.8m-long and 2.4m-wide (expandable to 6.8m), the kitchen is equipped

  • Kingdom, China rebut basis for US sanctions

    The Council for the Development of Cambodia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and Tianjin Union Investment Development Group Co Ltd (Tianjin) have responded to US sanctions on Union Development Group Co Ltd (UDG), a Chinese-owned company currently developing the sprawling $3.8 billion Dara

  • Influenza breaks out in eight provinces

    Nearly 600 people have been infected with influenza in eight provinces in the past month, Ministry of Health spokesperson Or Vandine said. The ministry is advising extreme caution. A report released by Vandine on Saturday said the Ministry of Health observed transmissions of influenza between August 15

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • CNRP activist freed; Sam Rainsy pledges return to Kingdom

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday released former CNRP activist Oeur Narith on bail after the court ended its questioning on suspicion of receiving money from abroad and plotting to overthrow the government, according to the authorities. National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun confirmed