Garment Factories Vote to Freeze Minimum Wage

A majority of members of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents the country’s more than 500 exporting garment factories, have voted against any raise to their workers’ minimum wage next year.

The association’s survey of its members follows a 28-percent hike to the garment sector’s minimum wage in January to $128 per month, and comes amid negotiations between the factories, unions and government officials to set the wage for 2016. A final decision by the Labor Ministry is expected in October.

GMAC deputy secretary-general Kaing Monika said the association surveyed its members on Sunday and gave them three options to choose from: no raise, a raise of between $1 and $5, and a raise of between $6 and $10. He said 63 per- cent voted for no raise, while 26 percent were in favor of an increase of $1 to $5.

“That’s the preliminary result; we’re still counting the votes,” he said.

If the results hold, Mr. Monika said, GMAC’s position as the negotiations progress would be that the minimum wage should remain at $128 next year.

“It should be, because this is the voice of the majority of our members,” he said. “We can’t go against the majority.”

Mr. Monika said the association would stick to that position even if it meant more of the union-led demonstrations the negotiations are meant to curtail.

“Whatever the results, we have to deal with that,” he said.

The garment sector’s many unions have yet to coalesce around a single figure, though a small group of the most vocal of them has tentatively agreed to push for $177—the upper limit of what a 2013 government study concluded the average garment worker needed at the time to make a living.

Some unions and labor rights groups have commissioned a new study and expect the results next month.

Ath Thorn, president of the largest independent union in the country, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said he expected GMAC to gradually raise its negotiating position and was starting at zero to keep the new minimum wage as low as possible.

“This is one of the strategies of GMAC…because they expect an increase, but they don’t want a big increase,” he said.

GMAC has warned that another hefty hike to the minimum wage next year would drive many of the sector’s foreign investors and buyers to other shores, either where wages are lower or where workers are more productive.

But the unions have taken heart from a recent report by the International Labor Organization suggesting that Cambodia’s garment factories have managed to absorb this year’s 28-percent raise and continue to see a rise in exports.

Mr. Thorn said he did not believe GMAC’s latest dire warnings any more than he did last year and that unions might start staging protests over the minimum wage like they did in 2014 if the factories and government insist on a wage freeze.

“It depends on the situation,” he said. “If zero, or if it’s low, maybe. If [they are] reasonable, I expect not.”

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