Cambodian Garment Unions Threaten Strike After Wage Demand is Voted Down

cambodia-heng-sour-press-conference-oct-2014.jpg Heng Sour (C), spokesman of Cambodia's Labor Ministry, speaks to reporters at a press conference in Phnom Penh, Oct. 30, 2014.

Cambodian unions have warned of possible strikes after a tripartite working group voted down their demand for a U.S. $40 increase in the monthly minimum wage for garment factory workers.

Twenty-seven representatives of unions, factory owners, and the government decided in a secret vote in Phnom Penh last week to reject a union demand that the salary be raised from U.S. $100 to U.S. $140.

The group adopted a proposal by the government of a new wage of U.S. $121 and a proposal of U.S. $110 by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents the factories, following the vote participated by nine participants each from the three sides.

The union proposal got only seven votes after two union representatives abstained from voting, while the GMAC and government proposals received nine votes each.

Ministry of Labor spokesman Heng Sour said the proposals which received the two highest votes had been sent to the Labor Advisory Councilcomprising representatives of employers, the government, and unionsset up by the Labor Ministry, which has the final say on the minimum wage.

The vote was taken last Thursday to break the stalemate after six days of discussions by the working group.

Voting a 'show'

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, told RFA that the vote was a “show” and pointed out that the representatives of two unions that refrained from voting were affiliated with the government.

“The vote is not honest,” he said. “[Representatives from] two unions didn’t vote, so this is a sign that they’ve sold out," he said, referring to Som Aun, president of the government-aligned National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia, and Chhoun Mom Thol, president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party-affiliated Cambodian Union Federation.

"They are betraying their conscience,” he said.

Pao Sina warned that if the workers were unable to get a new minimum wage of 140 dollars or "any closer" to the amount, they would go on strike.

“I think the government must consider [our proposal]," he said. "We don’t want a repeat of the strike that took place in 2013/2014. We don’t want to see a national strike because of the minimum wage,” he said.

At least four civilians were killed in early January when police opened fire on protesting textile factory workers demanding higher minimum wages.       

GMAC plan

In the recent negotiations, the GMAC has said it could only raise the monthly minimum wage to U.S. $110 and provide an attendance bonus of U.S. $10 and U.S. $7 for transportation and housing.

Heng Sour defended the government’s stance that the monthly minimum wage should be increased to U.S. $121, saying it was based on a poverty threshold and social welfare and health care costs.

He said that such a minimum wage reduced workers’ health care expenditures because the government would be subsiding them U.S. $21 for this.

The government plans to exempt taxes on monthly salaries lower than 500,000 riel-800,000 riel (U.S. $122-U.S. $196), allowing workers to save at least U.S. $7 a month, he said.

“When the workers receive U.S. $121 with other benefits that are exempt from taxes, it is equal to the U.S. $140 that the workers demand,” he said.

The working group, which organized the secret vote last week, was formed in mid-October to bring about a quick resolution to the wage dispute.

Heng Sour previously said that the working group would continue its discussions until a compromise was reached.

Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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