Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour yesterday threatened legal action against those confusing the concepts of “minimum” and “living” wages, as he outlined the method and schedule for upcoming minimum wage talks for the garment sector.
In an apparent swipe at recent research showing garment workers’ median monthly spending came to $207 – which was jumped on by some independent unions as a possible minimum wage proposal – Sour warned “academics and professionals” would face repercussions if their “wrong use” of terminology led to “social problems”.
“You all have to be responsible for every issue which occurs by the confusion that you intentionally created,” Sour said at the press conference.
Yesterday, William Conklin, director of labour rights group the Solidarity Centre, defended the report by the DC Institute, saying it did not suggest a living or minimum wage, but profiled spending habits to help inform unions’ bargaining position.
“It was not a proposal,” Conklin said. Garment unions have yet to agree on their proposed increase to the current $128 minimum wage for next year ahead of tripartite talks with employers and the government on Friday.
Today, 16 unions – both independent and government-aligned – will try again to agree on a figure, said Fa Saly, president of the National Trade Union Confederation, adding the members were split three ways between $158, $162 and $178.
“If we cannot [reach consensus], we will do a secret vote,” Fa Saly said.
Friday’s discussions, supervised by the Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), will be followed by a LAC technical working group on Monday. The government wants a final figure decided by October, Sour said.
If an agreement isn’t reached between the three parties, another tripartite session will be held next month, he said, adding that if that proves unsuccessful, a vote will be held.
Sour said the wage negotiations will be based on five principles and seven criteria covering workers’ needs as well as industry productivity and competitiveness.
On one end, was the “poverty line”, according to his presentation.
This calculated that with an average family of 5.1 people in Phnom Penh, whose living costs, adjusted for inflation, were estimated at $300, each worker, based on figures of 2.5 breadwinners per household, would need about $120 a month.
For the provinces, the “required wage” shrunk to $82.
Meanwhile, looking at productivity, Sour presented the textile, garment and footwear industry’s “value added” – its gross total output minus intermediate inputs, based on National Institute of Statistics data.
Of this “value added” – which has risen from $26 million in 1993 to a projected $1.7 billion last year – the figures indicated a growing share was going to wages and pension fund payments, from 31 per cent in 2007 to 58.2 per cent last year.
The trend is in line with a regular argument by manufactures that rising wages were not matched by increasing productivity.