Compromise Remains Elusive in Minimum Wage Negotiations

Factory and union representatives remain as far apart as ever over where to set next year’s minimum wage for garment workers, now at $128 per month, after hours of heated negotiations Wednesday and a vote that seemed to settle nothing.

Heading into the meeting of government, factory and union representatives, Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said the 48-member working group—split evenly among the three sides—would vote on their proposals and send the winning number to the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), which convenes Thursday.

Union leader Ath Thorn urges on garment workers during a rally for a higher minimum wage at the Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Union and factory representatives remained deeply divided yesterday as wage negotiations continued at the Ministry of Labor. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Union leader Ath Thorn urges on garment workers during a rally for a higher minimum wage at the Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. Union and factory representatives remained deeply divided yesterday as wage negotiations continued at the Ministry of Labor. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Instead, after several hours of tense negotiations behind closed doors, the group did vote but decided to send all three proposed numbers on to the LAC anyway—nearly the same numbers the three sides had been pushing for before the meeting.

In the end, 16 votes went to the factories’ proposal of $133, 15 votes to the government’s proposal of $135, and 13 votes to the unions’ proposal of $160.

“Today’s vote was just to show how much support each side has, and we will send this to the LAC to make a decision, including the proposal from the unions,” Mr. Sour said.

The vote took place only after four of the 16 union leaders in the working group stormed out of the meeting, however.

After leaving the room early, union leader Ath Thorn said the four walked out because the government was insisting that the wage proposal that received the least votes not be passed on to the LAC for further discussion. They were worried that pro-government unions in the group would tip the results in favor of the lower proposals.

“We walked out because we had requested not to have a vote, but to discuss the numbers and send all of them to the LAC,” he said.

Mr. Sour said the union leaders who walked out early had been mistaken, and that the government always intended to forward all three figures to the LAC.

The LAC—a smaller body of government, factory and union representatives than the working group—will start meeting Thursday to debate the numbers and make its own proposal to the Labor Ministry, which will make a final decision.

But unlike the working group, half of the 24 members on the LAC represent the government, giving both the factories and the unions a smaller voice. The ministry says it wants to have the new minimum wage decided before the Pchum Ben holiday, which begins on Sunday.

Before Wednesday’s meeting, some of the unions organized rallies for a higher minimum wage outside factories in Phnom Penh and elsewhere to coincide with the World Day for Decent Work.

At the Canadia Industrial Park, where police shot dead at least five people during a labor protest in 2013, about 300 garment workers joined in for a few minutes of their lunch break.

On the main road running through the park, they unfurled banners urging the international brands that buy from Cambodian factories to “End Corporate Greed” and help employers “Provide a Living Wage.”

[email protected]

© 2015, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.