The Cambodian government, owners of garment factories and some unions decided Monday to hold off until 2015 on raising the minimum wage for workers, an issue that sparked strikes prompting a deadly government crackdown in January.
The decision was made at the 28-member Labor Advisory Committee (LAC)—which consists of the three groups—but at least one large union in the group slammed the move, saying it could fuel labor unrest.
“After a discussion, the committee has decided to schedule Jan. 1, 2015 as the day that a new minimum wage will go into effect for garment and shoe workers,” a statement from the tripartite group said.
The committee also decided to begin debate on the new minimum wage for garment and shoe workers in July, with unions and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC)—which represents factory owners—discussing the issue separately before meeting bilaterally in August.
In September, the two sides will meet together with the Ministry of Labor to discuss wages and in October the LAC will decide on the new standard before it goes into effect at the start of 2015, the statement said.
Minister of Labor Ith Sam Heng said that the decision reflected the interests of all participants in the wage talks.
“Each party defended their interests,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“The discussion was tense at some points, but easy at others. This is normal during a discussion.”
However, Ath Thon, head of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Worker Democratic Union (CCAWDU), the country’s largest independent union, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the LAC should not delay its process of adopting a new wage minimum until next year, given recent labor unrest.
“We want to hold discussions and end the problem within this year,” he said, adding that his organization had voted against the decision to hold off on wages increases this year.
Garment workers have been at the forefront of protests for higher wages and have faced several crackdowns by Cambodian authorities.
At least four civilians were killed in early January when police opened fire on striking textile factory workers who were calling for U.S. $160 a month, despite the government raising the minimum wage to U.S. $100 from $80 late last year.
Twenty-five workers and activists arrested in the crackdown were convicted last month of instigating violence during the garment worker protests and given between one and four-and-a-half years in prison, but their jail sentences were suspended and the group was set free amid international scrutiny.
In addition to asking for raises, workers have also taken to the streets to call for a monthly transportation allowance of up to U.S. $15 and other payments and bonuses, including U.S. $15 dollars for lunch.
GMAC representatives failed to turn up for tripartite LAC talks scheduled in April aimed at breaking an impasse in wage negotiations.
Around a half million people work in Cambodia’s garment industry, which earns some U.S. $4.6 billion a year producing goods for Western clothing firms, but workers often work long shifts for little pay, trade unions complain.
It is the country's biggest employer and key export earner.
In May, 30 global brands—including H&M, Puma, Gap and Levi’s—and unions urged the government to bring to justice those who shot at the demonstrators in the January crackdown and to refrain from meeting peaceful worker movements with violence.
Levi’s said recently that it had cut sourcing from Cambodia to reduce supply chain risk and ensure delivery.
Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.