The Cambodian government on Wednesday called on unions and employers to be flexible in their negotiations over an increase in the minimum wage for garment and footwear workers as the two sides remained poles apart following a second straight day of tense talks.
Ministry of Labor Under Secretary of State Sat Samouth urged the two parties to “soften their stances,” calling on the unions to lower their demand and representatives of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) to raise their offer for a fair compromise.
At a press conference during a break in talks, he told reporters that the government is optimistic the parties could agree by April for an increase in the minimum wage from its current rate of U.S. $61 per month.
Union representatives had asked for the minimum wage to be doubled to U.S. $120 per month in negotiations on Tuesday, but reduced their bid to U.S. $100 on Wednesday, while GMAC representatives held fast on their offer of U.S. $72.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Labor coordinated the last two days of meetings between the worker unions and employers.
Although the two sides remain far apart on numbers, they have agreed to establish an independent committee to resolve the issue, Sat Samouth said, adding that he expected the minimum wage to be “defined before April.”
“At today’s meeting, we urged all parties to continue their negotiations,” he said.
Around 70 representatives attended talks between the two sides on Wednesday. The GMAC dispatched two officials to the meeting, but neither was authorized to change the stance of the employers, Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers union told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Ath Thon said that after “tense discussions” at Wednesday’s meeting, the unions finally agreed to lower their demand by U.S. $20 per month.
He expressed frustration with the GMAC’s continued refusal to increase their offer, warning that a nationwide strike would result if workers’ demands were not met.
With GMAC President Van Sou Ieng currently out of the country, Ath Thon said, the employers had no power to bargain.
“Any negotiation is useless,” he said, vowing to protect the interests of the workers he represents.
“We can’t negotiate anything without giving benefits to the workers.”
A GMAC representative, who spoke with RFA on condition of anonymity, said employers would only offer U.S. $72 and that if workers were unwilling to accept they could “find other employment.”
Cambodia’s 300,000 textile workers often work long shifts for little pay in the garment factories, trade unions complain. The garment industry is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.