15:36:18 local time CAMBODIA
Cambodian Garment Workers: Provide Basic Wage $177 !
* Support Cambodian Garment Workers in their Fight for Fair Wages! $177 NOW!:
We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Cambodian garment workers and unions in their demand for an immediate increase to their minimum wage to $177(USD) a month.
We demand that companies such as H&M, The Gap, Adidas, Walmart, Puma, Levi’s, C&A, and Zara pressure their factory suppliers in Cambodia to respect workers’ rights and make immediate meaningful improvements to working conditions.
Cambodian garment workers are forced to work for poverty-level wages while the companies they manufacture for make billions of dollars in profits. Four major brands, H&M, GAP, Walmart, and Adidas, for example, had combined revenues of roughly $608 billion in 2012, an amount almost 43 times Cambodia’s entire GDP.
The legal minimum wage for garment workers is a miserable $100 per month. Thousands of workers have fainted at their sewing machines due to malnutrition, overwork, heat, poor ventilation, and fumes from chemicals used in the manufacturing process.
Earlier this year, when over 200,000 Cambodian workers stood up to demand a fairer wage, authorities shot four workers dead in the streets and threw 23 union activists in jail. Consumers don’t want clothes tainted with exploitation and repression!
We therefore support Cambodian union calls for the following:
read more & please sign.
* Dewhirst management ‘intimidated’ workers:
Management of an English-owned garment factory yesterday refused a request by union officials to meet to negotiate a possible end of a strike that started on Thursday.
Employees at Por Sen Chey district’s Dewhirst (Cambodia) Co, Ltd yesterday showed up for their shifts, but refused to work, employee Mean Sophyreak said.
Managers intimidated many trying to protest outside the factory, he added. “The factory [managers] threatened to cut our wages if we did not work,” Sophyreak said.
Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union legal officer Sean Yoth said that earlier, management declined a request to negotiate, primarily about employees’ demand they earn a minimum monthly wage of $138, rather than the new mandated figure of $128. Dewhirst officials couldn’t be reached yesterday.
* Wage hike not high for some:
Garment workers earning the minimum wage will soon receive a $28 per month raise, but striking employees at a Phnom Penh factory, who earned more than the legal base pay, argue that they should receive a proportional salary hike.
Protests started on Thursday at Du Horse garment factory in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district. When the monthly minimum wage was $100 last year, the lowest paid employees at the factory earned $110.
Therefore, strikers reasoned, management should continue paying workers $10 over the $128 minimum put into effect at the start of the year, said Mean Sophyreak, a Du Horse employee.
“For the new minimum wage, the government approved an additional $28 to our wages, so we should receive $138 per month,” said Mean Sophyreak, a member of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), which is leading the strike. “But the company announced they would cut $10 from our normal wage before the raise, so we refused.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, said yesterday he saw both sides of the issue.
“[A strike] is a little bit over-reactive,” Tola said yesterday. “For sure, I understand [that to] the worker who already gets $110 … and now gets $128 while [workers who earned $100] get $128, it’s not fair for you.”
Better collective-bargaining systems between unions and factory management could help avoid strikes such as this one, Tola said.
* Cambodia – one year on violence continues:
A year after five people were shot dead by police and 40 more were severely injured during wage protests in Phnom Penh on 3 January 2014, unionists in Cambodia are still being subjected to violence.
Last month, a locally elected president from IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the FTUWKC garment union, was brutally attacked with a metal bar by two unidentified men after she had been threatened by management to stop organizing at the factory where she works.
However, violence and intimidation did not deter unions and garment workers from taking to the streets again and again in 2014 to demand higher wages and better working conditions.
Thanks to their bravery, international solidarity and high-level negotiations between IndustriALL, the government, factory owners and local union leaders, the minimum wage for the garment industry increased from US$ 100 to US$ 128 in November 2014.
Despite this significant gain, the figure is below unions’ goal of US$ 177 per month and well below the living wage, estimated to be above US$ 200.
* One Year After the Strikes: Cambodia’s Garment Industry Stumbles:
One year ago, strikes, street protests, and then the killing of five garment workers rocked Cambodia’s largest export industry.
One year later, unions and opposition leaders held memorial events last weekend.
Now that the dust has settled, what is the view of managers in this core industry? Garment factories employ 750,000 people and account for 80 percent of Cambodia’s exports.
“In 2014, number of factories grew by 20 percent, but exports were flat – what does tell you?” asked Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia.
Garment Exports Flat or Down in 2014
Factory expansion came from momentum built up during the recent go-go years, he said. But garment export growth tailed down during the year, hitting 3 percent by the end of October. He forecast that 2014 closed in negative territory for Cambodia.
Now through March is normally a peak season for garment workers as clothes are sewn now to stock European and American stores with the Northern Hemisphere summer fashion lines. Mr. Loo says the best way to take the pulse is to walk down the Garment sector’s ‘main street’ – Veng Sreng Boulevard, just west of the airport.
“Usually, January-March is the peak season for orders,” said the representative of GMAC, a trade association with 577 members. “Now, if you walk down at 4 pm, you will see workers exiting the factories. It should not be the case. If workers work overtime, they get out at 6 or 6h30. This indicates that there are not enough orders for overtime. And that very few that had double shifts have shut that down.”
From the Workers: Not Enough Money
On a busy street near factories in Chbar Ampov, an army of garment workers spilled out of the Hoyear Garment factory for lunch. Their concerns were not unemployment, but inflation triggered by last week’s 28 percent increase in the miminum monthly wage, to $128.
“We’re happy for the $28 increase to our wages,” said Norm Socheata, a 35-year-old who has worked in the garment industry for 10 years. Noting that the monthly rent on her room had already jumped from $45 to $50, she complained: “We already spent more on food and other things like electricity and water.”
* ILO Urges Global Brands to Help Pay for New Minimum Wage:
The International Labor Organization (ILO) is urging global brands to help absorb the costs Cambodia’s garment factories will have to bear owing to a $28 jump in the monthly minimum wage for garment workers that takes effect this month.
The hefty wage hike, from $100 to $128, was announced by the Labor Ministry in November and makes for a more than doubling of the minimum wage since 2012, when it stood at $61.
Though the new wage falls well short of what some of the country’s more strident unions were demanding, employers say dozens of the more than 500 garment factories in the country may be forced to close down, a move that would put tens of thousands out of work. In response, some of the brands buying from Cambodia have promised to pay more for their orders to help the factories cope. But some of the biggest brands have not.
In a statement released Monday, the ILO urges all brands to join in.
It says the latest raise will push the average monthly wage in the garment industry, including overtime and bonuses, from $183 to $217, and increase factory costs by nearly 20 percent, all while the prices the factory’s buyers are paying stagnate or even drop.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the country’s export factories, welcomed the statement, but said it would make little difference unless the buyers start to face the same price increases in the countries Cambodia is competing with, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.
“It’s a good gesture…but the ILO has zero leverage over the buyers,” he said.
* Brands urged to step up:
In an open letter to global apparel brands that buy from factories in Cambodia, the International Labour Organization urges the companies to “play their part” in absorbing the financial strain local garment factories expect from the Kingdom’s new minimum wage.
The January 1 letter estimates that factories in Cambodia will take more than an 18 per cent hit from the Ministry of Labour’s November decision to hike floor salaries from $100 per month to $128 in 2015.
“It is important that all sides work together to ensure Cambodia’s garment industry remains economically viable”, said Maurizio Bussi, the ILO’s country director for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos, is quoted as saying in the letter. “We call on the global brands to play their part. We have received encouraging signals that key buyers will honour the pledge they gave the Cambodian Government in September.”
* ILO urges garment buyers to help absorb new minimum wage:
The International Labour Organization (ILO) called on companies sourcing garments in Cambodia to help the local industry absorb a new minimum wage of $128 a month which went into effect on January 1.
In a statement, the ILO said its estimates showed that average wages including bonuses and overtime were likely to rise from $183 to $217 a month.
“The pay rise is expected to increase factories’ wage bills by approximately 18.7 per cent,” the statement said, noting that this was on top of earlier increases that more than doubled the minimum wage since 2012 when it was $61 a month.
* ILO calls on global garment buyers to help absorb Cambodia’s new minimum wage:
Global garment brands who source their products from Cambodia should play a part in helping the industry absorb the new minimum wage of US$ 128 per month, according to experts from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The new minimum wage for the approximately half-a-million workers in Cambodia’s garment and footwear industry came into effect on 1 January 2015. As a result, average wages (which include bonuses and overtime) in the garment industry are likely to rise from US$ 183 to US$217 per month, according to estimates made by the ILO’s Country Office for Thailand, Cambodia and Lao PDR.
The pay rise is expected to increase factories’ wage bills by approximately 18.7 per cent. It comes on top of earlier adjustments that have more than doubled the minimum wage since 2012, when it stood at US$ 61.
At the same time, the prices that Cambodian factories receive in their main markets have been stagnating or declining. For example, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated that prices for apparel imports from ASEAN countries have fallen by 4.5 per cent since June 2012.
“Caught between these two forces, factories have seen a substantial fall in their operating margins over the past three years”, said Malte Luebker, the ILO’s Senior Regional Wage Specialist.
“ In principle, factories can respond by increasing efficiency, using measures that range from better work organization to energy conservation.
However, our research shows that these gains are gradual and will only enable factories to cover a small share of the expected wage increase”.
read more: 20150105 ILO PR-Cambodia garment wage.
* Police Prevent Veng Sreng Slaying Commemorations:
Monks, activists and workers gather on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street on Saturday for a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the brutal repression of a nationwide garment-sector strike there on January 3 last year. (Licadho)
Led by monks and CNRP lawmaker Real Camerin, the group began moving along the street before they were met by a familiar scene as hundreds of military police bearing AK-47s set up an armored police line.
Rath Srieng, the commander of Phnom Penh’s military police forces, who last year personally directed the suppression of the strike, was again on the scene directing the forces.
When marchers tried to sidestep the narrow police line on the wide street, the commander seized some of the marchers’ flags and grabbed a megaphone.
“When you violate the law, the authorities have the right to keep public order,” Maj. Gen. Srieng shouted over the megaphone. “City Hall does not allow you to hold this [march], therefore you have to break up.”
In an apparent fit of rage, and in video footage that was widely shared on social media, Maj. Gen. Srieng then pushed a young woman who criticized his actions.
“Do not protest! It is my right!” Maj. Gen. Srieng said to her.
The commander then turned to a monk next to him and threatened his arrest.
“If you do not break up, I will take you away, because you are the one who is leading this,” he said.
The marchers never pressed past the police line and soon dispersed, as Maj. Gen. Srieng’s forces monitored tuk-tuks and cars passing back into the city for activists.
Asked why forces armed with AK-47s were sent to the march, military police spokesman Kheng Tito said Sunday it was standard.
“It is normal since ‘armed forces’ are equipped with weapons,” Brig. Gen. Tito said.
* Answers sought for Veng Sreng:
Families of those shot dead on Veng Sreng Boulevard in January last year have called on National Assembly President Heng Samrin to summon Defence Minister Tea Banh and Interior Minister Sar Kheng for questioning over the brutal crackdown in a letter obtained yesterday.
Five people were killed when heavily armed security forces opened fire on protesters and bystanders during a minimum garment wage protest. A teenage boy, believed to have been shot, remains missing. Dozens were injured and arrested, while a number of protesters were themselves violent.
“A great number of police, armed forces and soldiers under the Ministry of Interior and the Defence Ministry cracked down brutally on workers, civil society and monks,” says the letter, also from survivors.
“We propose that the defence minister and interior minister clarify in the National Assembly the events that led to the shootings, the boy going missing, the 23 arrests and the many injuries.”
Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), spent months in prison after “observing” a protest that ended in a violent crackdown and his arrest on January 2. Yesterday, he called for the authorities to pursue those responsible for the violence.
* CNRP Condemns Strike Violence on First Anniversary:
On the first anniversary of last year’s violent demonstrations on Veng Sreng Street, which resulted in four deaths and the disappearance of one person, about 100 supporters gathered on Sunday to remember the victims at the headquarters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
CNRP officials took the opportunity to again condemn the authorities’ crackdown and their role in the violence.
President of the Sam Rainsy Party, Kong Korm, accused the government of employing strong-arm tactics aimed at simply keeping the ruling party in power.
He pointed out that people who have money and power are rarely arrested and sentenced. “Powerful people who committed crimes on Veng Sreng Street – the CNRP have had to struggle to make them responsible and to recognize what they did.”
Acting president of the CNRP, Pol Hom, asserted that the workers did not use violence during the melee. He added that he saw the workers dancing to highlight their demands for a minimum wage of $160.
“I asked to attend as a witness that workers did not use violence. There are only authorities that used violence,” he said.
The wife of protester Sam Ravy who died in January last year, Chhive Panith, said that she did not receive justice. She added that her husband participated in the protest only to demand the minimum wage of $160. “I will file a complaint via the CNRP to find our justice,” Ms. Panith said.
* CNRP commemorates Veng Sreng’s deadly clash:
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party on Sunday commemorated Veng Sreng’s deadly clash at its headquarters in Meanchey district, Phnom Penh capital after being banned by Phnom Penh City Hall from holding the ceremony at the Freedom Park.
In a press release issued Saturday, the CNRP expressed regret over the Phnom Penh City Hall’s decision that didn’t allow it to hold a religious ceremony at the Freedom Park and in front of Canadia Industrial Park for the workers who were killed on Veng Sreng street on outskirt of the capital in January 2014.
* A Year After Deadly Cambodia Protest, Families Await Answers:
A Tribute to Cambodia’s Fallen Garment Workers
A year after military police opened fire on a group of labor protesters here killing five, their families still mourn and hope for justice.
Pheng Kosal was among the demonstrators killed January 3, 2014, while demanding higher wages. His $100 monthly salary had helped his single mother and his seven siblings survive.
Since Kosal’s death, his mother Keo Sokmeng, 50, has struggled to support the family on her own salary, also just $100 a month. From that, she must pay the rent on their small house, as well as water, electricity, school fees, food and other expenses.
“I relied on him more than [on] the other kids, since he was the most educated and the smartest,” Keo Sokmeng said.
Her son had been a good student, but he quit school after his father died and went to work for a garbage collection company. He studied to become a mechanic and, once he was qualified, got a better-paying factory job.
“He loved his job…. He had never caused me any trouble,” Keo Sokmeng said. “The money he got from his job he helped me support his brothers and sisters.”
Since losing that income, Keo Sokmeng said, she has had to send two of her children to live with relatives.
“My 16-year-old-daughter stays with my sister in Kampoong Cham,” she said. “My other son went to his uncle’s house in Kandal.”
The loss of Pheng Kosal has devastated her family. “If I had known that the military shot people, I would not have let him go”said Keo Sokmeng, referring to the protests.
* Hundreds gather at Veng Sreng for commemoration then prevented from marching to Borei Keila:
This morning hundreds of people gathered at the site of last year’s fatal shootings on Veng Sreng Road to remember the dead and missing.
Families of the victims and some of those wrongfully imprisoned following the violence spoke to the crowds. Security forces including Brigade 70 and 90 soldiers were visibly patrolling in the area but did not attempt to prevent the gathering.
Supporters then attempted to march to Borei Keila to mark the three-year anniversary of the forced evictions of Borei Keila communities but after marching almost 3km were blocked by over 100 military and riot police who grabbed, shoved and hit some participants. Marchers were allowed to proceed in vehicles only.
* The calm after the storm:
One year ago today, gunfire from heavily armed security forces killed at least five people on the capital’s Veng Sreng Boulevard. The deadly violence – and a crackdown on opposition supporters in Freedom Park the following day – also landed devastating blows to a united protest movement fast gaining momentum
In the final days of 2013, a protest movement was sweeping up thousands of young people across the country.
After a year of industrial unrest typified by largely unconnected factory strikes, garment workers and non-government-aligned unions suddenly found themselves unified and in full voice over their demands for a $160 monthly minimum wage.
When the government offered workers just $95 in late December 2013, workers poured onto the streets. Factories were ordered shut. In just a few days, workers had brought a multibillion-dollar industry to a standstill.
At the same time, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – in the middle of a parliamentary boycott – was marching down major roads and using Freedom Park as a peaceful stronghold from which to voice their demands for a new election.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy told garment workers to hold out for $160 and boasted of his party’s own movement being a “a giant wave that cannot be stopped”. The two protest paths soon converged.
“The CNRP was riding on momentum . . . it was a perfect storm,” recalled Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
But in the first few days of 2014 everything changed. Government security forces carried out crackdowns on strikers and protesters. On this day last year, security forces stormed along Veng Sreng Boulevard, a garment factory hub on the capital’s outskirts, firing indiscriminately at workers and bystanders.
At least five people were killed. Dozens more were wounded. One 16-year-old, last seen with a gunshot wound, is still missing.
* A Year On, Killings on Veng Sreng Remembered:
Within a matter of days, a strike that began on Christmas day in 2013 spread across the country and shut down Cambodia’s largest export industry. Hundreds of thousands of garment factory workers stopped work as unions demanded an increase of the monthly minimum wage to $160.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), quickly called for action to restore investor confidence in the $5-billion-a-year industry.
“The government is the only organization, the only body that can resolve this problem,” Mr. Loo said on December 27 as the strikes were escalating.
“The problem we are referring to is, number one, the hooliganism, and, number two, the demonstrations.”
On January 3, a year ago this Saturday, the government deployed hundreds of military police armed with AK-47 assault rifles to the heart of the protests on Phnom Penh’s largely industrial Veng Sreng Street.
In just a few hours, the forces had killed five workers and injured more than 40 others, most struck by bullets or severely beaten.
Speaking from hospital beds around Phnom Penh in the ensuing days, the surviving victims said that after the military police arrived they began firing their weapons in the air, before aiming directly at workers who refused to flee the area.
Local rights groups identified Kim Phalin, 29; Yann Rithy, 26; Sreng Vibol, 22; Ouk Pheak, 23; and Sam Ravy, 26, as the five killed. Unions corroborated the figure, despite persistent rumors that more were slain.
“I saw 10 of them put up a wall of riot shields, and then I saw a gun poke through and it shot at me,” said Hem Ouen, 23, on January 7 as he recovered from a bullet wound at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital.
“If you didn’t run away, they would just pick you out and shoot you,” Mr. Ouen recalled, admitting he had been throwing rocks at the military police when he was shot.
Others threw crude Molotov cocktails and set fire to piles of tires. Yet the strike was easily suppressed by the government’s armed forces, and by that afternoon the streets were locked down.
“Everyone is too afraid to strike now so no one ever considers it, even though it’s only strikes that can find a solution for us,” said Chhiv Phanith, a garment worker whose husband Sam Ravy was one of the five killed on January 3, speaking on Veng Sreng Street this week.
* Veng Sreng clash commemoration illegitimate: Spokesman:
Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said on Saturday that commemoration and procession of unionists and civil society activists are illegitimate and that authorities will take measure against what is illegal.
The spokesman made comments after some 300 Buddhists, land rights and civil society activists gathered on Veng Sreng street to commemorate the 1st anniversary of deadly crackdown which left five dead, over 30 injured when there was a bloody clash.
The commemoration ceremony aimed at urging the government to take responsibility and find justice for the victims.
* One year after deaths, NGOs slam inaction:
As a year approaches since government security forces shot dead at least five people on Veng Sreng Boulevard at the height of garment strikes and opposition protests, rights groups have condemned the lack of thorough investigations, including into the disappearance of a missing teenager.
Khim Saphath, 16, was last seen nursing a bloody chest wound after heavily armed security forces opened fire on strikers last January 3.
“The government claims to have investigated [his] disappearance, to have conducted forensic tests on the remains and determined that they are not those of . . . Sophath,” a statement from 35 NGOs says.
But authorities, the statement adds, have provided no details of the forensic investigation. They have also not requested DNA samples from Sophath’s family members for comparison. Human remains suspected to be Sophath’s were found near the notorious Brigade 70’s base in Kampong Speu province in May. At one point, they were in the possession of an opposition activist, but it is unclear at what stage the government took hold of them.
* Veng Sreng Anniversary: Still no Justice for the Dead, Missing and Injured:
One year on from the state violence of early January 2014 which led to the deaths of at least four men and the hospitalization of dozens, the disappearance of a teenage boy and the wrongful imprisonment of 23 union leaders, activists and workers, we the undersigned civil society organizations condemn the lack of progress made in investigating these human rights violations and in punishing those responsible.
On January 3 hundreds of people will gather at the site of the shootings on Veng Sreng road to mark the one-year anniversary of the violence and to call for justice for those affected.
“On Saturday we will gather to remember those killed and missing as a result of last January’s violence and to stand with their families and friends,” said Moeun Tola, Head of CLEC’s labor program. “As we do so we also recall and condemn the government’s continued failure to establish a credible and independent investigation into the bloodshed.”
January’s violence followed days of widespread strikes over the minimum wage which converged with long-standing protests by the CNRP over the conduct and results of the July 2013 National Assembly election.
As the peaceful protests continued to grow the government’s patience wore thin and the mass protests were brought to a swift and brutal end on January 3 when mixed security forces shot and killed at least four people.
At least 38 others were taken to hospital to be treated for their injuries, mostly from bullet wounds.
15-year-old Khem Sophath disappeared that day having last been seen lying on the ground with an apparent bullet wound to his chest.
* In memoriam: Shootings to be marked by unions, CNRP:
About 100 unionists and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members are to hold a gathering on Sunday in front of the Canadia Industrial Park on Veng Sreng Boulevard, a year after military officials shot dead five protesters.
Organised by CNRP Phnom Penh capital council member Morn Phalla, attendees will memorialise and pray for those killed during the January 3, 2014, demonstration supporting a nationwide garment worker strike, he said yesterday.
The shootings came amid a crackdown that also saw CNRP supporters forcibly driven from Freedom Park on January 4. “The ceremony will be led by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha with about 100 people,” Phalla said.
* Reactions from the Factory Floor in Cambodia:
In November 2014, the Cambodian Government announced its decision to raise the minimum wage to $128 a month.
Here, two garment workers, Eam Rin and Kimlee Ngel, share with us their reactions to this decision.
* GMAC claims on true wages ‘exaggerated’:
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) said in a statement this week that under the new minimum wage workers can actually earn up to $250 per month, though others were quick to label the figure exaggerated.
The Ministry of Labour last week approved the new wage in Cambodia’s garment sector, which comes on top of legally required benefits such as transportation, accommodation and meal allowances. The new wage of $128 – up from $100 – will go into effect January 1.
“In reality, wage has many components,” the statement, posted to GMAC’s Facebook page on Wednesday, says. It concludes that “starting from January 2015, the total monthly take-home wage a worker will be able to earn is between US$225 and US$250”.
GMAC’s analysis includes legally mandated bonuses, such as $10 for attendance and $7 for travel and accommodation, as well as overtime, seniority and other factors.
While agreeing that workers will take home at least $135 each month next year, Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, Welsh described GMAC’s $225 to $250 conclusion as “a huge embellishment”.
* After New Wage, Dissent Over Take Home Pay:
Following months of fraught negotiations that led to the Labor Ministry setting the minimum wage in the garment sector at $128 last week, debate has begun over just how much garment workers will have in their pockets at the end of each month as a result of the increase.
The minimum wage for workers in the country’s crucial garment sector will rise 28 percent from $100 per month on January 1 next year, but estimates of the average take-home pay—taking into account overtime and allowances—vary widely.
In recent days, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents the country’s 500 exporting factories, has gone on the offensive against the wage hike, placing newspaper advertisements and statements on social media setting out what it says will be the true take-home wage of garment workers.
GMAC claims that on average, workers will in fact earn $225 to $250 when overtime and seniority payments are taken into account.
* Wage increases threaten US garment export future:
Trade with the US might be increasing, but the Western nation’s long-time appetite for Cambodian-made garments might be headed for a decline.
Official data from the US Department of Commerce shows that imports from Cambodia reached $2.161 billion for the January-to-September period, up marginally from $2.017 billion during the same nine months in 2013.
The US has long been the largest importer of Cambodian-made goods, with the vast majority of products coming from the garment sector.
However, Kaing Monika, deputy secretary of the General of Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) told the Post yesterday that garment exports to the US market had in fact declined by 9 per cent between January and September.
He said the incremental increases to Cambodia’s minimum wage were inflating production costs for US firms. Last week, unions and the Ministry of Labour announced that the minimum wage would increase to $128 per month from the current $100 per month.
“Now, the total value of export of garment to EU is nearly the same to US’s. In the future, the export to EU will overtake US market due to the tax exemption for our products under the Everything But Arms deal,” Monika said.
* Unions Displeased With Wage Hike, But Not Enough to Strike:
Four of the country’s most prominent unions say they will not strike over the government’s latest rejection of their wage demands for garment workers, making a repeat of the unrest that rocked the garment sector in December and January increasingly unlikely.
But they warned that protests could pick up again if landlords around the factories start raising their rents and utility fees, as they usually do whenever wages increase.
Several unions staged crippling strikes that briefly brought the $5.5 billion garment sector to a standstill when the government rejected their demands for a $160 monthly minimum wage in December last year. The strikes only came to an end after military police shot into a crowd of protesters in Phnom Penh on January 3, killing at least five workers and injuring dozens more.
Unions this time around had lowered their demands to $140, but still came up short when the Labor Ministry last week decided to raise the current minimum wage of $100 to $128.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, the largest independent union in the country, said nearly all his factory representatives voted against going on strike at a meeting Friday evening.
Between going on strike, happily accepting the new wage, and objecting to the new wage but opting not to strike, almost all of the roughly 100 representatives at the meeting voted for the third option.
“That means they are not happy, but we will not strike,” Mr. Thorn said Sunday. “So they will try to find another way [to raise the wage], but not a strike.”
* Most are OK with the new wage, not all:
After meeting with members, several labour union leaders yesterday said that they will not hold protests against the government-set garment industry minimum wage for 2015.
Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng last week approved $128 as 2015’s minimum monthly wage in Cambodia’s garment sector. The increase, up from the current wage of $100, goes into effect January 1.
Union heads and labour advocates denounced the wage, which was $12 less than unionists proposed, but several yesterday said their members accepted the raise.
“About 80 per cent of my more than 40,000 members said they are happy with the new wage,” National Trade Union Confederation president Fa Saly said. “For me, I will keep demanding higher wages … by pushing the buyers, government and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia to reconsider the raise, but will not strike.”
* New wage not bad to many:
A growing chorus of labour advocates yesterday continued to condemn the government’s decision this week to set the minimum wage in the garment sector at $128 per month, even as many workers seemed ready to accept the new figure and one major factory played down the impact.
After the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) initially proposed a $123 floor wage on Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen advised an extra $5.
In response, several international unions, including IndustriALL and the International Trade Union Confederation, released a joint statement dismissing the wage, which is $8 above Cambodia’s poverty line. Similarly, advocates such as the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) predicted it could lead to violent demonstrations like ones last year that left at least five people dead.
But on the factory floor, the story isn’t so simple. Although one man said yesterday he wanted $2 more than the new minimum, workers such as Sok Samnang actually welcomed it.
“I just received the information, which surprised me and made me very happy to have a higher wage; I agree to receive $128,” Samnang, a Wing Star Shoes employee, said yesterday, echoing the sentiments of four other workers who spoke to the Post. “I have no reason to join any protests to demand more”.
Unions had demanded the government raise salaries from the current $100 to $140. The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, on the other hand, remained steadfast in its negotiating stance that factories could pay only $110.
* GMAC Blasts Wage Hike:
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) regrets the Cambodian government’s decision to increase the monthly minimum wage for the garment sector to $128 for 2015, up 28 percent from the current $100.
“GMAC expresses deep regrets for the government’s unilateral decision to raise the monthly minimum wage to $128 from January 2015,” GMAC said in a statement on its website Thursday.
It said the government’s decision kicked out the results of a tripartite working group that has selected two figures, $110 and $121, for a final decision.
“The steep rise in wage will seriously affect the survival of many factories, especially those with poor financial stability and weak purchase order,” it said.
According to GMAC, besides the basic wage of $128, workers have received other fringe benefits such as a transport and housing allowance of $7 and a regular attendance bonus of $10.
“In total, a worker has received a monthly minimum wage of $145. This amount is the same as the minimum wage in the Vietnam’s most expensive zone and nearly twice higher than current rates in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” GMAC said.
* International Unions Say New Garment Wage Still Too Low:
A trio of international union federations has come out against the government’s decision Wednesday to raise the monthly minimum wage for Cambodia’s garment workers from $100 to $128.
Local independent unions, meanwhile, have yet to decide whether to accept the pay hike or go back on strike, but dismissed the latest warning from factories that the raise will force many of them to close and take thousands of jobs with them.
The Labor Ministry announced the new wage on Wednesday afternoon, setting it $5 above the $123 the ministry’s Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) had settled on in a secret ballot that morning. Of the 28 members on the committee—14 from the government and seven each from the unions and factories—only two people voted for the $140 the independent unions had been pushing for.
In a joint statement following the announcement of the new wage, IndustriALL, UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation said the Labor Ministry’s decision “represented yet another squandered opportunity.”
“A living wage is not only necessary for workers to live with dignity, but it is also essential for the sustainability of the garment industry. That is why leading international apparel brands have indicated their support for a fair living wage,” said IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina.
In the midst of the fraught negotiations leading up to this week’s wage decision, some of the biggest brands currently sourcing from Cambodia promised to start paying more for their orders, to help factories bear the burden of any wage hike.
“We intend to hold the brands to their word and will continue working with them on a mechanism that will extend higher wages to workers in their supplier factories,” Mr. Raina said.
But the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents most of the country’s garment factories, says not enough of the international buyers have joined the pledge to make a difference.
And after the Labor Ministry announced the new minimum wage on Wednesday, it warned that many of its members were now in serious danger of having to shut down.
* Global unions dismiss 128 USD wage as inadequate:
IndustriALL Global Union, UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) dismiss today’s decision by the Cambodian government to set a minimum wage of US$128 a month for the garment sector as inadequate.
Since January, when the government sent troops into the streets to quell protests over the then-poverty wage of US$100, local and global trade unions, international brands and governments made clear that the garment industry cannot be sustainable where workers’ wages are set below or on the margins of poverty.
The government’s decision, while slightly higher than the labour advisory committee’s recommendation of US$123, represents yet another squandered opportunity.
“A living wage is not only necessary for workers to live with dignity but it is also essential for the sustainability of the garment industry. That is why leading international apparel brands have indicated their support for a fair living wage,” explained Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL. “We intend to hold the brands to their word and will continue working with them on a mechanism that will extend higher wages to workers in their supplier factories.”
Speaking in Brisbane ahead of the G20 summit, UNI Global Union General Secretary Philip Jennings said, “Cambodian garment workers need a pay rise. Supply chains will be examined here at the G20 and we will make clear our disappointment with Cambodia.”
Additionally, the global unions are deeply concerned with recent drafts of the Trade Union Law, which represent a major step in the wrong direction.
* Minimum wage set:
Vitriol rang from all sides yesterday following a government decision to raise the monthly minimum wage in the garment sector to $128, with labour unions declaring it too little and employer representatives claiming such a large raise could close factories.
The Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) held a vote yesterday morning and emerged with a figure of $123 as next year’s industrial floor salary – up from the current $100.
A meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen directly after the vote led Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng to raise that figure by an additional $5, to $128, a Labour Ministry statement reads.
Union leaders who battled for $140 remained unsure of whether their members would accept the amount, or if they would be prompted to launch a campaign against the government-mandated figure.
Labour rights advocates, meanwhile, expressed concerns that the move could provoke strikes and cause international brands to pull out of Cambodia.
“I hope that unions will understand, because they joined the discussion, that we cannot meet their demand,” said Sam Heng.
He discouraged demonstrations akin to those after last year’s minimum wage decision, which resulted in arrests, violence and at least five deaths.
“Don’t use demonstrations to push for your demands,” Heng said.
Including transportation, seniority and other bonuses, workers will be able to earn a total monthly salary of between $147 and $156 a month next year, a Labour Ministry statement reads.
Unions were clear on their minimum financial needs, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) and one of two people who voted for a $140 wage at the LAC meeting.
C.CAWDU members will meet on Sunday to discuss their next course of action. “Until [we receive] $140, I’m not satisfied,” Thorn said. “We will discuss with my members; if my members want to campaign [against the wage], we will.”
What the government and brands should worry about, he continued, is possible unrest resulting from the Labour Ministry’s decision yesterday.
“The government is walking a fine line,” Preston said. “I think there’s a real possibility that we could see a repeat of last year; I don’t think the government or the brands can afford that.”
Even without the violence Cambodia experienced in January, brands could fear the worst-case scenario and leave the country proactively, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.
“You may see brand pullout based on the fear of what they anticipate,” Welsh said.
* Gov’t Sets Minimum Wage for Garment Workers at $128:
The Ministry of Labor set the new monthly minimum wage for the country’s garment workers at $128 Wednesday, hoping it will be enough to stave off the crippling strikes that hit the $5.5 billion industry after the last wage revision in December while still keeping Cambodia competitive.
The announcement follows months of fraught negotiations between the government, unions and factory owners during which all sides had divergent views on how much to raise the current $100 minimum wage by.
Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng announced the new wage Wednesday afternoon, only a few hours after the ministry’s 28-member Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) —made up of government, union and factory representatives—voted for a new wage of $123.
“The minimum wage for employees working in the garment and footwear sector in 2015 is officially set at $128 per month,” the minister said in a signed government decree.
It says the new wage will take effect on January 1 for most workers. Those on probation will receive only $123 until their probation ends.
The LAC’s two independent unions—the other five unions on the committee are widely seen as aligned with the government—said they would meet with their members in the coming days before deciding whether to accept or oppose the new wage.
“We are waiting to discuss it with our members. We will meet next week,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, the country’s largest independent union.
Mr. Thorn’s union helped launch nationwide strikes that briefly brought the garment sector to a standstill in December when the Labor Ministry rejected union calls at the time for a new minimum wage of $160 and decided on $95 instead.
* Minimum Wage of $128 Proposed:
The Labor Advisory Council (LAC) has voted to raise the minimum wage to $128 per month for next year, in the face of calls from labor unions for a higher figure.
This morning’s meeting of the LAC, which brings together 28 representatives of the government, garment industry and unions, follows a series of strikes by garment workers demanding higher pay and better working conditions.
Factory owners are hoping that an agreement on a new minimum wage will bring an end to the walkouts, which threaten an industry that employs close on half a million Cambodians and is worth $5 billion annually.
* What next should be done by the government to improve livelihoods of factory workers, citizens?:
The Cambodian government decided to set new monthly minimum wage for workers in garment sector at US$ 128 for 2015, up 28 percent from the current US$ 100 after a long negotiation between representatives of labor unions, Ministry of Labor and the Garment Manufacturers Association (GMAC) in Cambodia on Wednesday.
The new wage increase will help the Cambodian garment workers to enjoy better livelihoods as they have been experiencing a lot of difficulties.
But the increase to US$ 128 per month hasn’t satisfied either factory employers or union leaders.
GMAC warned that about 30 percent of factories can face business closure due to the high monthly minimum wage which they can not afford.
To get rid of this fear, the factory side hopes that the government will improve law implementation and takes any necessary measures that can benefits the garment sector in the country.
Unnecessary expense shall be cut off and labor productivity should be increased. This probably refers to elimination of corruption committed by related officials, and reduce strikes.
* Cambodian manufacturers group dissatisfied with 28 pct wage rise for garment sector:
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has expressed regrets for the Cambodian government’s decision to increase the monthly minimum wage for the garment sector to 128 U.S. dollars for 2015, up 28 percent from the current 100 U.S. dollars.
“GMAC expresses deep regrets for the government’s unilateral decision to raise the monthly minimum wage to 128 U.S. dollars from January 2015,” GMAC said in a statement posted on its website Thursday.
It said the government’s decision has kicked out the results of the tripartite working group that has selected two figures, 110 U. S. dollars and 121 U.S. dollars, for a final decision.
“The steep rise in wage will seriously affect the survival of many factories, especially those with poor financial stability and weak purchase order,” it said.
According to GMAC, besides the basic wage of 128 U.S. dollars, workers have received other fringe benefits such as a transport and housing allowance of 7 U.S. dollars and a regular attendance bonus of 10 U.S. dollars.
“In total, a worker has received a monthly minimum wage of 145 U.S. dollars. This amount is the same as the minimum wage in the Vietnam’s most expensive zone and nearly twice higher than current rates in Bangladesh and Myanmar,” it said.
* Manufacturers warn of factory closure as wage in Cambodian garment sector rises for 2015:
The garment and footwear manufacturers group in Cambodia warned Wednesday that up to 50 factories will be closed due to the government’s decision to increase monthly minimum wage in the sector to 128 U.S. dollars from the current 100 dollars.
“According to the estimation of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, between 30 and 50 factories will be closed under the new minimum wage and at least 50,000 workers will lose their jobs,” Nang Sothy, co-chair of the Government-Private Working Group on Industrial Relations, which represents the manufacturers, told reporters.
However, he said the manufacturers will follow the government’s decision.
“It’s our obligation to comply with the government’s decision, but we are not satisfied with this decision because the new minimum wage is very high,” he said, stressing that the employers wanted the monthly minimum wage to be raised to 110 dollars only.
He warned that some factories might move to neighboring countries such as Vietnam and Myanmar, where labour cost is cheaper.
* Minister adds $5 to garment wage:
Next year’s minimum monthly wage in Cambodia’s garment industry will likely be $128, after Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng over-road the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC)
Sam Heng met with Prime Minister Hun Sen after the LAC voted in favour of a $123 monthly minimum wage. An additional $5 was added “according to the high recommendation from the Prime Minister,” a Labour Ministry statement says.
This morning, sixteen committee members voted for the government-sponsored $123 figure, while seven voted for the employer-backed $110 and two voted for the union-suggested $140, Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said this morning.
The committee contains 14 representatives from government, seven representing factories and seven from the union side.
* Labor Committee Decides on $123 Minimum Wage:
Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said Wednesday morning that he will recommend $123 as the new minimum wage in the garment sector, set to take effect in January, and that the government will make a final decision on the wage revision later in the day.
The labor minister spoke to reporters following a vote by the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) in which the figure received majority support from the 28-member panel of government, factory and union representatives.
“In the meeting, we decided with a majority vote of 16 out of 25 to implement a $123 [minimum wage] in 2015,” Mr. Sam Heng said. “This evening, it will be announced officially.”
* Cambodia to raise monthly minimum wage for garment workers to 123 USD for 2015:
Cambodia on Wednesday decided to increase the monthly minimum wage in the garment sector to 123 U.S. dollars, up 23 percent from the current 100 U.S. dollars, Labor Minister Ith Samheng said.
“After a confidential vote by the representatives of the Labour Ministry, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, and the trade unions, the majority vote agreed to increase the monthly minimum wage for the garment sector to 123 U.S. dollars for 2015,” the minister told reporters after a voting session. “The new minimum wage will be implemented from Jan. 1, 2015 onwards.”
The garment and footwear sector, the kingdom’s largest foreign currency earner, comprises 960 factories with approximately 620, 000 workers, according to the Ministry of Labour.
The sector exported products in equivalent to 4.44 billion U.S. dollars in the first nine months of this year, up 6 percent over the same period last year.
* New $123 garment wage tops LAC voting:
Next year’s minimum monthly wage in Cambodia’s garment industry will likely be $123, after the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) voted for the wage this morning.
Sixteen committee members voted for the government-sponsored $123 figure, while seven voted for the employer-backed $110 and two voted for the union-suggested $140, Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said this morning.
The committee contains 14 representatives from government, seven representing factories and seven from the union side.
“[LAC members] did not come to a consensus, so they voted,” Sour told the Post. “We just completed the vote and the majority of the LAC unions voted for $123 for the new minimum wage for 2015.”
* No boycott: Union meet could decide wage today:
Independent labour unions will take part in the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) meeting today, possibly making their decision on next year’s minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector.
The two independent LAC unions yesterday decided against boycotting the process after the Labour Ministry decided to include a union-endorsed $140 monthly wage as a suggested option for the LAC, which ultimately approves the minimum wage.
“I don’t want the wage discussion to be delayed more, because workers will lose,” said Ken Chhenglang, head of National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia (NIFTUC), one of the LAC’s independent unions.
NIFTUC and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) considered boycotting the LAC after a working group decided to propose that the LAC consider only an employer-suggested wage of $110 and government-suggested wage of $121.
* BetterFactories Media Updates 12 November 2014 Fired Workers at Grand Twins Allowed to Return:
* To read in the printed edition of the Cambodia Daily:
2014-11-12 Fired Workers at Grand Twins Allowed to Return
* To read in the printed edition of the Phnom Penh Post:
2014-11-12 Union meet could decide wage today
* BetterFactories Media Updates Overview here.
* Boycott plan divides unions:
Several labour unions support the plans of the two independent unions on the government’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) to boycott a vote on the minimum wage for garment workers, while at least one unions said the action would be detrimental.
Eight independent unions will meet Wednesday to decide whether the two on the LAC will carry out the boycott. Supporters of the idea say it will strip the veneer of legitimacy from the body that will essentially decide next year’s minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) and an LAC member.
“[They] believe if we don’t boycott, the government and companies will just get their amount and not consider the workers’ amount,” Thorn said yesterday. “If we boycott, at least the LAC loses its good image, because [independent] unions are not involved.”
C.CAWDU and the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia (NIFTUC) are the only independent unions on the LAC. The boycott, which was proposed at a meeting on Tuesday, comes after a minimum wage working group did not send unions’ proposal for a monthly minimum salary of $140 to the LAC.
* Frustrated Unions to Boycott Garment Sector Wage Vote:
The two non-government aligned unions on the committee that advises the Labor Ministry on the garment sector minimum wage say they will boycott a vote on a new floor wage next week in protest over the failure of their proposed wage to make it onto the ballot.
Last month, the government set up an ad hoc working group with nine members each from the government, factories and unions to try and reach a consensus on what the new monthly wage—currently set at $100—should be before the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) puts the proposal to a vote.
After days of meetings, the working group took a secret ballot vote of its own last week. Nine votes each went to the factories’ proposal for $110 and the government’s proposal for $121. The unions managed only seven votes for their proposal for $140 after two of them abstained, leading to allegations that the two government-aligned union representatives in the group derailed the unions’ proposal.
Feeling cheated, the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions in Cambodia (NIFTUC) and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) say they will be boycotting the LAC when its puts the two wage proposals up for a vote next Wednesday.
“We will boycott the LAC meeting on the 12th because our proposed figure was rejected,” NIFTUC’s acting president, Ken Chhenglang, said Wednesday.
“And if the LAC announces a minimum wage we are not satisfied with, we will take action to pressure [the government and factories] to meet our demands,” she said, adding that strikes and protests would both be likely.
Six unions, including NIFTUC and CCAWDU, staged several days of crippling strikes and demonstrations beginning in December after the LAC rejected their minimum wage demand of $160 and the Labor Ministry announced a new $95 minimum wage.
* Union wage vote split:
Rather than reaching a consensus on next year’s minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector as they were instructed, a tripartite working group is to file two suggestions for the wage to the Ministry of Labour, neither supported by unions.
At a meeting last night of the 27-person panel – nine representatives each from unions, employers and the government – nine people voted for the government-supported monthly floor salary of $121 and nine voted for the employer-supported $110.
The $140 mark backed by most unions, however, will not be presented to the Labour Ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) at all after garnering just seven votes.
Working group members agreed at the beginning that the salary with the most votes would be submitted, Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said, but since two people abstained, the $140 option was left off the table.
“When the result was released, I was really shocked that two unions did not vote to support the number that we agreed,” Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina said, suspecting that members of the union group abstained. “It means they did not support the workers.”
Made up of seven representatives of unions and employers and 14 from the government, the LAC will decide the salary.
The poll was taken in a secret ballot, but Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union vice president Kong Athit said it was obvious who abstained, but declined to name his suspects.
* Unions’ Push For $140 Minimum Wage Derailed:
After setting up a working group specifically to include some of the country’s more militant unions in wage negotiations for the garment sector, the Labor Ministry said on Thursday that it has thrown out the unions’ demand for a $140 minimum wage in favor of lower recommendations coming from the government and factory owners.
A group of nine union leaders, nine factory representatives and nine government officials—a committee formed to help find common ground on a new wage for the embattled garment sector—held a secret vote on Thursday to choose among three options for a new minimum wage: $110, proposed by factory owners; $121, proposed by the government; or $140, from the unions.
Both $110 and $121 received nine votes, while $140 received only seven votes, with two union representatives abstaining. Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said the results meant that the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), which is set to put forth a new wage recommendation next month, would not consider the unions’ proposal.
* Court Places Two More Union Heads Under Supervision:
Five of the six union leaders accused of alleged criminal activity during nationwide garment worker strikes and demonstrations in December and January are now under judicial supervision after two more of the group appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday.
Rong Chhun, president of Cambodian Confederation of Unions, and Yaing Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, are now, like their colleagues, banned from meeting with other union leaders or joining any public gatherings until they are tried on charges of intentional violence, destroying property and obstructing traffic.
The charges relate to violence that erupted during the nationwide strikes on Veng Sreng Street, in the heart of the industrial area of Pur Senchey district, when rock-throwing protesters were violently suppressed by military police, who shot dead five workers and injured dozens more.
Both Mr. Chhun and Ms. Sophorn, who join fellow union leaders Ath Thorn, Chea Mony and Pav Sina in being placed under the court’s supervision, deny being present when the violence broke out or supporting the violence in any way.
* More unionists put under court watch:
Two more prominent union leaders have been put under court supervision in connection with mass garment sector strikes that spiralled into violence in December and January.
Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun and Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions president Yang Sophorn have been charged with intentional violence, intentional property damage, threats to cause damage and obstructing traffic.
Last month three other prominent unionists – Ath Thorn of C.CAWDU, Pav Sina of CUMW and Chea Mony of FTU – were laid with the same charges and also put under court supervision.
Chea Sok Heang, an investigating judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said that he made the decision after questioning the pair yesterday.
* Working Group Minimum Wage Vote Due Wednesday:
A group of union leaders, factory owners and government representatives set up to negotiate a recommendation for a new minimum wage in the garment sector is due to meet Wednesday for a vote on a final figure, according to those involved in the talks.
Nine representatives each from the unions, factories and government were brought together this month in an effort to assist the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) in determining a new minimum wage, set to take effect in January, that is acceptable to all parties.
Chuon Mom Thol, president of the Cambodia Union Federation, said the working group would meet at the Labor Ministry this morning in an attempt to reach a consensus. The majority of unions, he said, were seeking a minimum wage of $140 per month, up from the current $100.
“We will meet and try to find a number, and if not, we will vote in secret to get a number that we will send to the LAC,” Mr. Mom Thol said.
The Labor Ministry is expected to make a final decision on a new minimum wage next month.
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said representatives were due to sign a report that details each side’s views on the wage prior to the vote.
* Factory’s workers ordered back:
Thousands of employees at Grand Twins International, Cambodia’s only publicly listed garment factory, will be back at the assembly line today after nearly two weeks on strike, accepting a court order to return to work.
Workers will follow the order the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued Monday to return, Grand Twins staff representative Kao Vannet said yesterday, but will continue trying to get the benefits they demand.
The strike is the first Grand Twins International has experienced since its establishment in 1997, Grand Twins chief strategy officer David Liu said during an interview at the factory yesterday.
“They are requesting crazy benefits,” Liu said yesterday. “All benefits we give are better than what the law requires.”
About 4,000 of Grand Twins’ approximately 5,300 workers walked off the job on the afternoon of October 20 – just over four months after the factory became the second company listed on the Cambodian Securities Exchange. At the time, factory management stated their confidence that labour unrest, which plagues Cambodia’s garment sector, would not be an issue for them.
Included in Grand Twins workers’ demands are 5,000 riel ($1.25) per day for lunch (3,000 riel more than is currently provided) and $15 per month for travel and accommodation ($8 more than the current sum), according to an email Liu wrote on October 21 to Adidas, the factory’s main buyer.
Grand Twins pays workers more than the law requires, Liu added.
But Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said employees he met on Friday said the factory changed its name in 2006, putting employees on new contracts and ending seniority benefits for many.
* Garment wage talks fall apart:
The tripartite working group set up to negotiate and advise the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) on next year’s minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector has stopped meeting after reaching a stalemate.
Made up of 27 members – nine each from employers, the government and unions – the group ended talks after a meeting last night, when employer representatives refused to budge from a monthly wage of $110 per month, said panel member Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.
“Employers had no intention to increase wages to more than $110,” Sina said. “The Labour Ministry said it could not be below $120,” which is Cambodia’s poverty line.
Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary general Ken Loo refused to comment.
Formation of the working group was announced by Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng on October 14. Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour previously said the group would have no time limit, and would have to continue negotiating until reaching a consensus.
Sour could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The stalemate is not surprising, said Community Legal Education Center consultant Joel Preston, adding that the government had already formed enough committees and has enough information to decide 2015’s minimum wage.
“It’s just another example; we hear the government saying one thing, then the results are different,” Preston said. “We want to see dialogue, but we want to see results.”
Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union vice president Kong Athit said the group will send their report of each party’s suggested wage to the ministry.
* Strikers to be held in prison:
The Kampong Cham Provincial Court yesterday ordered that five workers who were arrested during a violent protest at Juhui Footwear on Saturday be held in prison while charges against them are investigated.
Two of them, Khun Sokhom and Mon Sarem, officials from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), were charged with “inciting intentional violence and intentional damage”, said defence lawyer Kim Socheat.
The court charged the other three, also C.CAWDU members at the Wal-Mart supplier, with the lesser crime of committing intentional violence and intentional damage, Socheat said.
“The court does not have enough evidence to charge and detain my clients.”
Police arrested 10 people after the clash, but court officials released five soon after, determining they were not involved in the protest.
About 2,000 workers who were fired for striking allegedly broke through one of Juhui’s gates on Saturday, throwing rocks and using slingshots to fire marbles at police. Workers had allegedly been told on Friday that they could return to work.
* Wage talks remain in deadlock:
The third day of negotiations between members of a working group trying to reach a consensus on the minimum monthly garment wage remained stagnant yesterday, as manufacturers refused to budge from their $110 offer.
Although members of the government delegation to the working group – also made up of factory and union representatives – urged employers to at least consider $120, they flatly refused, said Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina.
“If the employers increase their offer, we will lower our demand from $150,” Sina said, referring to the amount unions have loosely agreed upon.
Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached after the meeting.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labour program, said he believed standing firm for the time being is a tactic manufacturers are using so that unions will accept a lesser amount in the end.
“I think it’s only the strategy of the manufacturers,” he said.
* Labour talks ‘show promise’:
The first of 10 planned negotiation sessions between union, manufacturer and government officials on the minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector yesterday showed promise, several who attended the meeting said.
After the meeting of the working group, which includes nine members from each stakeholder group, participants were introduced to each other and given data to consider.
“From my point of view, I think it’s good that the government has brought both parties to the table to discuss,” said Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union.
* Gov’t Sets Ground Rules for Ongoing Wage Talks:
The Labor Ministry laid out the ground rules for unions and factories Monday at the first meeting of a new working group charged with getting the two sides to agree on a new minimum wage for garment workers, including a condition that they address each other politely.
The ministry wants the unions and factories to agree on a recommended raise to the current monthly minimum wage of $100 in order to avoid the crippling strikes some of the unions staged after failing to win the $160 they were demanding in December.
Aiming to get the more militant unions in on the talks, the ministry announced the creation of a new working group last week made up of nine representatives each from the unions, factories and government. They are tasked with formulating a recommended raise for the Labor Advisory Committee, which will then recommend a raise to the Labor Ministry before the government makes a final decision.
The latest offer from the fac- tories was a raise of $10. Unions have been pushing for as much as $77, though some of them in recent days said they were willing to go as low as $35 or even $30.
At the end of its first meeting Monday, the new working group failed to emerge with a common figure for the new wage. But the ministry did put out a six-point list of rules on how the representatives are to comport themselves so as to keep the proceedings civil and moving apace.
“Do not use violent words or make conflict with each other,” the first point says.
The other points urge the representatives not to spread information that would cause violence or spark any “illegal” gathering, not to skip any future meetings except in the case of a debilitat- ing illness, back up all their arguments with sound reasoning and respect anyone’s request to keep a particular comment secret.
* Hard times for ‘the 23’:
While the smoke has long cleared on January’s violent garment strikes, for many of the 23 workers and unionists arrested and tried on charges widely considered to be baseless, the ordeal is far from over.
Nine months after security forces used deadly violence to end strikes over the minimum wage, many of the men arrested, convicted and released with suspended prison sentences months later find themselves broke and out of a job.
With new wage negotiations back on the agenda – and unions threatening more large-scale demonstrations if demands aren’t met – some former detainees claim they have been excluded from the garment sector altogether.
Twenty-two-year-old Lon San was beaten and arrested on January 2. He says he and his wife, both employees of Sky 9 factory, were only watching the strike action.
During the months that he languished in prison, San claims that neither his co-workers nor his bosses attempted to contact him, and he was quietly dismissed from the factory.
Having applied for close to 20 jobs since his release from prison, San says he has been flatly rejected from all of them.
“Whenever I see phone contacts hanging outside factories saying they need workers I call the contact to ask for a job. But when I tell them my name, it seems like they know that I used to be in prison and reply to me that they don’t need workers,” he said.
“Those factories, including my old factory, rejected my application because they know I am one of the 23 people who was arrested and detained in prison,” he said. “I can’t think of other reasons than that I have a criminal record for why I have not been selected for a job. I think factories might have blacklisted me.”
Since his imprisonment, San says his financial troubles have sunk to new depths.“I have become a housewife: I stay at home to cook and look after the children, but my wife works to support the family. It is really shameful for me,” he said.
* Free Trade Union Proposes $130 Garment Worker Minimum Wage:
One of the country’s largest unions on Sunday came out in favor of a new minimum wage for garment workers far lower than what many of its counterparts have been agitating for over the past several months, bolstering prospects for a compromise with factories.
The Labor Ministry is mediating talks between the unions and garment factories with the hope of getting them to agree on a raise to the current monthly minimum wage of $100 before the increase takes effect in January.
But with the unions demanding a $77 raise and the factories insisting on no more than $10, there has been little progress.
On Sunday, however, Free Trade Union (FTU) president Chea Mony said his network of unions was ready to back a more modest raise of $30.
“We call on the government and employers to provide a $130 minimum wage because they can afford to provide this amount and the factories will not shut down,” he said by telephone after a biannual meeting with 77 of his officials Sunday morning.
“If we cannot get this wage, we will protest to demand it,” he said.
The FTU’s $130 is even lower than the $135 concession put forward last week by Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, one of the country’s most prominent nongovernment-aligned unions.
* Commerce claims that donations not political:
The Ministry of Commerce has defended its solicitation of donations from private organisations as voluntary, legal and a form of corporate social responsibility.
The ministry’s response comes after Post Weekend revealed on Saturday, through leaked documents, that the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) made a cash contribution to the government totalling $5,000 and has been paying membership fees for senior government officials at an exclusive country club.
The donation was made in response to a request from the Ministry of Commerce to oknhas – or wealthy businessmen – to support troops in Preah Vihear. GMAC, too, has defended the payment and says that it regularly receives requests from all ministries to donate to a range of causes.
In an open letter posted on the MoC Facebook page yesterday, Ken Ratha, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said that GMAC’s payment to the government was part of a corporate social responsibility fund, and went exclusively towards assisting troops serving along the Thai border in Preah Vihear.
“It is really a voluntary donation from partner organizations, and not even remotely related to illegal donations or corruption,” the letter reads.
* GMAC paid for gov’t officials’ perks:
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia is funding perks for senior government officials and has donated thousands of dollars to government ministries, financial records reveal.
Documents obtained by Post Weekend have raised questions over how close a relationship the factory representative, which is in the process of negotiating a minimum wage for garment workers, has with the government.
Those benefiting from the factory representatives’ contributions – and GMAC itself – have brushed off any wrongdoing, with one saying he believed his perks were part of corporate social responsibility duties.
GMAC’s August financial statements detail a $350 renewal payment at the Cambodian Country Club for Sok Sopheak, director-general for International Trade at the Ministry of Commerce.
The exclusive club, owned by GMAC chairman Van Sou Ieng, boasts a resort hotel, two restaurants and a range of sporting activities – from tennis to fencing and even an equestrian centre.
Sopheak said yesterday that GMAC had approached him about a membership and had told him it was not a bribe as he was not asked to give anything in return.
“GMAC just told me it was the corporate social responsibility fund, the sport activity fund,” he said.
“If I join, it is a social event, nothing related to economics or this or that. If you have friends you invite for a coffee, you talk – people have the right to talk,” he said.
Concerned that his paid-up membership could be perceived as a conflict of interest, Sopheak said that since being contacted by Post Weekend he had told GMAC to strike him from their list.
The director-general said that there were many other government officials also signed up to the country club by GMAC, and factory representatives themselves acknowledge that there are at least five.
The financial statement also shows a cash payment $5,000 to the Ministry of Commerce.
GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo told the Post the money went to help troops stationed in Preah Vihear province along the Thai border.
The donation was made in response to a July 29 letter from Ouk Prachea, Secretary of State at the Ministry of Commerce, sent to okhnas, or powerful businessmen, that are presidents of companies, factories and enterprises.
“It was an official letter soliciting donations, and we do that pretty often – when it is an official request and it is not ‘x’ amount for the ministry,” Loo told Post Weekend.
According to Loo, requests from various government ministries occur regularly and GMAC will often oblige, as long as they are official and it is not a direct contribution to the Ministry.
This is evidenced by GMAC’s $1,000 donation of T-shirts, highlighted in their August financials, to the Council for the Development of Cambodia, which Loo says was also made upon request.
“We have never supported a request for any particular political party, because we are not supporting any particular political party per se, but if it comes from the ministry as part of their activities and it shouldn’t be partisan, it might end up being partisan so to speak, but it is not for us to interfere,” he said.
Last year GMAC accompanied the Ministry of Labour and Hun Sen’s Bodyguard Unit on two separate trips to Preah Vihear with a donation that included noodles and uniforms to government soldiers, which is evidence Loo said that his organisation is not favouring any particular ministry.
Loo said just like GMAC’s contributions to charities including the Red Cross and CARE, the organisation’s contributions were made to a government in need.
He denied that GMAC donations created an unfair advantage over those who didn’t donate, or that his organisation was swept up in Cambodia’s patronage system.
“A donation is a donation; someone who doesn’t give money, is there going to be punishment? How can they punish?” he asked.
The request for donations “happens all the time from all ministries – bar none,” he said.
Pech Pisey, director of programs for Transparency International, said it was common practice in Cambodia for ministries to request donations from the private sector to pass on to the public in the guise of a gift to the ministry.
It was not likely that the ministry donations or the gift given to ministers were illegal, Pisey said, but there were moral obligations that needed to be met and greater transparency would ensure greater trust.
“Any kind of doubt that the public concern, any kind of money exchanged between the private sector and the government, the relevant authorities should look into that,” he said.
Those working closer to the current minimum wage negotiations were more critical of GMAC’s close government ties.
* Minister wants union charges to be dropped:
Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng yesterday said his ministry will encourage an end to criminal proceedings against six labour union leaders charged with crimes stemming from a nationwide garment worker strike.
After meeting with 10 representatives of unions and labour rights organisations, Sam Heng said the Ministry of Labour would ask factory owners to drop complaints, which include intentional violence in aggravating circumstances, connected to the late December to early January strike.
“We will help intervene with the plaintiffs,” Sam Heng said after emerging from the two-hour session yesterday morning. “We will ask them to drop the case, and we will work more with the Ministry of Justice on this.”
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) is representing 170 factories that filed a court complaint against the union leaders for their alleged involvement in the 10-day strike, which ended on January 3, when military authorities shot dead at least five demonstrators on Veng Sreng Boulevard in Phnom Penh.
Leaders of six unions involved in the protests that began after Labour Ministry announced 2014’s garment sector minimum monthly wage would be $95 – $60 less than unions lobbied for – were put under court supervision last month.
* Garment Factories, Unions Edge Closer to Wage Deal:
Some of the unions that have been demanding a hefty $77 raise to the current monthly minimum wage of $100 for the country’s garment workers said Thursday they were willing to go as low as a $35 increase, though others refused to budge.
Before closing the doors to reporters at a meeting with several of the unions Thursday, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng said he heard of the reduction in the unions’ demands from ministry officials who had met recently with Dave Welsh, country director for the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based group that advocates for trade unions.
“I…know that Mr. David John Welsh met with [Labor Ministry officials] Oum Mean and Sat Samoth and that [the unions’] last position was between $135 and $140,” he said. “It is an improvement.” But Mr. Sam Heng added that about 30 of the biggest factories had actually moved further away from finding common ground with unions, withdrawing an earlier offer of a $15 raise and sticking to $10.
“They still hold strongly to this position and do not change,” he said.
Contacted after the meeting, Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, confirmed that his union had softened its demand.
* Group may slow wage talks:
The new working group announced by Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng this week will likely retain a strong influence over the body that determines the minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment industry. It is unlikely, however, that the working group will prioritise a speedy resolution to negotiations.
Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said yesterday that the 27-member group, made up of nine representatives of union, industry and government officials, will negotiate a palatable floor salary for next year without the strain of a tight deadline.
“The working group will keep negotiating, and if they are not approaching the particular number that will likely [be the] figure, they will keep on negotiating until they come up with a very rational number,” Sour said.
Unlike the Labour Ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), which ultimately decides the garment sector’s minimum wage, Sour said the working group will only consist of unions, employers and government officials who are directly involved with the garment industry. While the temporary working group will not directly decide 2015’s wage, their figure “might be the likely number” LAC members use as a template, Sour said.
* Cambodia – garment workers protest after delay in wage decision:
Over a thousand garment workers took to the streets in Phnom Penh on Sunday to demand better pay following a delay in announcing a new minimum wage.
The Labour Advisory Committee (LAC), composed of government, factory and union representatives, was due to reveal the new wage for 2015 on 10 October. Instead, wage negotiations have been postponed to an undecided date in November.
In frustration, garment workers from a coalition of six different unions, including IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, NIFTUC, donned bright pink t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan ‘We want a decent wage’ in a huge rally on 12 October.
It is the largest garment sector demonstration in the Cambodian capital since wage protestors were shot dead by police in January this year.
Unions accuse the LAC of delaying proceedings in an attempt to wear down their demands for a significant increase in the minimum wage, which currently stands at US$ 100 a month.
* Minister Brings ‘Activist’ Unions Into Wage Talks:
Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng on Tuesday promised to give unions who feel left out of current garment sector minimum wage negotiations a bigger say in the talks by creating a new working group that will advise the government’s current advisory committee.
The current Labor Advisory Committee (LAC)—composed of 14 representatives from the government, seven from the factories and seven from the unions—has so far failed to agree on how high to raise the current monthly rate of $100.
The Labor Ministry called off the October 10 meeting at which the committee was supposed to make its recommendation and said it will meet instead in November, but has yet to say exactly when.
After meeting with lawmakers behind closed doors at the National Assembly on Tuesday, Mr. Sam Heng said the smaller unions left out of the LAC will get to have their say as part of a new working group that will give equal voice to all sides.
“From [October] 20th, the ministry will create a three-party working group that will include nine relevant unions, nine employer representatives and nine people from the government to have technical discussions before giving its ideas to the Labor Advisory Committee.”
Of the seven unions on the LAC, only two are considered independent of the government. Mr. Sam Heng did not say which unions would sit on the new working group, but he told reporters that they would be picked from among the more “activist” variety.
About 400 garment workers from those unions were gathered outside the Assembly. After his meeting with lawmakers, Mr. Sam Heng told them he wanted to see them get their raise.
“I really want you brothers and sisters to have a lot, because I know you have a hard time living,” he said. “But in negotiations, the one who asks wants to have a lot and the one who gives wants to give a little, so we have to talk until we agree with each other.”
* Another wage body to form:
Following a meeting with parliamentarians at the National Assembly yesterday, Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng announced the ministry would form a 27-member committee to study technical aspects of raising the minimum wage in Cambodia’s garment sector.
The new committee will comprise nine representatives each from garment unions, factory owners and the government, Sam Heng said. He fell short of specifying how the ministry will form the committee or what, exactly, it will do.
“This mechanism will be discussed until it reaches a high agreement before the Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) makes its decision [on 2015’s minimum wage],” Sam Heng told reporters yesterday. “I hope that the worker’s salary in 2015 is more than in 2014.”
Yesterday’s 9am meeting occurred a day after members of parliament told union leaders that the assembly committee overseeing labour would discuss next years’ floor wage with ministry officials.
Union leaders on the LAC and others not on the panel have agreed to demand $150 per month, while the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia has offered to raise monthly minimum monthly wages from $100 to $110.
Community Legal Education Center consultant Joel Preston questioned what good another committee focused on wages would do when the issue has been studied by several commissions already.
“They did their research the last half of 2013 and they came to the concrete finding that workers need between $157 and $177,” Preston said, referring to a government study conducted last year.
While not optimistic that the technical committee will ensure unions the minimum wage they want, Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) – which is represented on the LAC – said he believes a positive effect is possible.
* Union leaders given audience in parliament:
Union leaders stated their case for a minimum wage increase – and made threats to strike if their demands aren’t met – during an unprecedented meeting with ruling and opposition lawmakers at the National Assembly yesterday.
“It is so good that each party is interested in the problems of the workers,” said Fa Saly, president of National Trade Union Coalition, who spoke with the Post after the sit-down. “However, if the wages of workers increase to only $120 [per month], we cannot accept it, and will go on strike.”
Unions have campaigned for a floor wage raise of $77 from the current $100 monthly minimum. However, specific numbers have been publicly discussed less since the seven union members of the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee agreed to demand $150.
Exact wage levels were discussed during the roughly 90-minute meeting, said Ke Sovanroth, chair of the parliamentary committee that monitors labour issues. “We don’t want the workers to strike,” the opposition lawmaker said. “We will discuss this problem with Minister of Labour [Ith Sam Heng] tomorrow at 9am.”
* Labor Minister to Face Lawmakers’ Questions:
Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng has agreed to appear before lawmakers today to answer questions about ongoing minimum wage negotiations for garment workers, a controversial draft union law and other pressing labor issues, according to the opposition CNRP.
CNRP lawmaker Ke Sovannaroth, who heads the National Assembly’s labor commission, said that last week she had invited Mr. Sam Heng to a question-and-answer session at parliament, and that the invitation had been accepted.
“The Ministry of Labor has told us that the minister will come to the meeting,” she said, adding that members of the Assembly’s 10 parliamentary committees were also invited to the meeting.
“We will take the opportunity to talk with the minister about the workers’ concerns and requests,” Ms. Sovannaroth said.
* Thousands rally over wage:
Garment workers line up with banners in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park yesterday during a rally calling for the minimum monthly wage in the sector to be increased to $177, up from the existing $100 rate. Photo by Vireak Mai.
Some 2,000 unionists supporting an increase in the monthly minimum wage to $177 in Cambodia’s garment sector marched to several embassies yesterday and set up a meeting between labour leaders and parliamentarians at the National Assembly this morning.
Led by six unions, the group, donning pink shirts reading “We need a Decent Wage” and carrying banners with slogans including “Gap Starves Cambodian Workers”, the group congregated at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park yesterday at about 8:30am.
From there, they marched and delivered petitions to the embassies of the United States and European Union, ending at the National Assembly, where several MPs met them outside, promising to meet with two representatives of each of the unions leading the crowd at 9am today.
“We expect that [the MPs] will solve the problems we have raised,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, one of the unions leading the rally. “If they cannot solve the problem, they will lose our support.”
The march came less than a week after Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng postponed until next month the Labour Ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) decision on next year’s industrial minimum wage. LAC members were originally scheduled to determine floor salaries last Friday.
Workers have campaigned for a minimum of $177 monthly, up from the current $100, but the seven unions on the LAC – none of which participated in yesterday’s event – have reached a consensus of $150.
* Garment Workers March for Higher Wages:
More than 1,000 garment workers gathered in Phnom Penh and marched through the city center Sunday, demanding a “decent wage” from their factories, the largest garment-sector demonstration in the capital since military police fatally suppressed a protest for higher wages in January.
Six unions teamed up to organize the rally, aimed at putting pressure on the government to approve a hefty raise to the industry’s monthly minimum wage, now set at $100. The Labor Advisory Committee—composed of government, factory and union representatives—is set to make a wage recommendation to the government next month, with a new floor wage scheduled to take effect in January.
The unions deliberately avoided demanding a specific figure Sunday—unlike a smaller “day of action” in September, when workers called for $177 per month—but have been asking for a raise of at least $50. The factories say they can’t afford more than a $10 wage hike.
Sporting bright pink T-shirts that read “We want a decent wage,” the workers, from Phnom Penh and surrounding provinces, gathered at Freedom Park in the early morning before beginning their march.
“We demand a decent wage because we want a decent living, good health and to send our children to school,” Ken Chhenglang, acting president of the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions in Cambodia, told the crowd.
Last month, the International Labor Organization said a recent sample survey of the country’s 600,000 garment workers found that two-thirds of the laborers did not consume enough nutritious food to stay healthy, more than 40 percent suffered from anemia and 15.7 percent were underweight.
“We came to join the protest because we can’t live on today’s wages,” said Yuos Makara, a garment worker from Phnom Penh. “We spend it on electricity, on water, on rent, on food and we send some money back home. Sometimes, we have to borrow money from other people to cover our expenses when we get sick.”
* About 1,000 Workers Protest for Salary Increase:
Workers protest for wage increase to 177 U.S. dollars per month at the Freedom Park. The protest was led by six unions.
The representatives of the unions led the protest today are Pav Sina, president of Collective Union of Movement Workers and Sieng Sambath, president of the Worker Friendship Union Federation.
The workers who came to protest have written “demanding salary increase” on the white pieces of paper and spoken through the speakers demanding that the Work Council Committee increase fair salary for them to be spent in their daily lives.
Pav Sina said that Work Council Committee has to find way to increase workers’ salary, and the increase is to be transparent.
“Work Council Committee has to talk to increase wage impartially, transparently, accurately acceptable. Otherwise, we’ll assembly to protest in a bigger rally,” he said.
According to Mr. Pav Sina, Work Council Committee should increase the minimum wage from 150 U.S.dollars up to 177 U.S. dollars per month.
The ministry of Labor announced the delay on minimum wage discussion for textile and footwear industry to November, 2014 to have enough time for each party to contemplate to reach a consent agreement.
* Eliminate corruption, raise wage: Sar Kheng:
Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng pledged to rid the garment industry of corruption yesterday as a way of cushioning factories against an upcoming minimum wage increase.
In a meeting with Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, Kheng said ridding Cambodia’s biggest export industry of bribery – particularly between factory owners and corrupt government officials – would make it easier to increase the minimum wage.
However, the minister did not give specifics on how to tackle corruption or what he believed the minimum wage should be.
“We will eliminate under-the-table fees and resolve the issue [of the minimum wage] with transparency,” he said during the meeting. “I hope I can work with Sam Rainsy, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, to create a better environment for business.”
Unions have been demanding a minimum “living wage” of $177 per month, nearly double the current wage. The Ministry of Labour this week postponed a decision on a wage increase due to take effect in January.
* Six labor unions to hold public forum on minimum wage this weekend:
At least six labor unions to be led by Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, will hold public forum at the Freedom Park on October 12 to discuss minimum wage demand for footwear and garment workers.
A plan to hold the forum is being discussed Thursday between Phnom Penh City Hall officials and union representatives.
The city hall is seeking permission from Ministry of Interior for the labor unions as about 3,000 people plan to participate in the forum.
Pav Sina said Thursday that the forum on this upcoming Sunday will provide workers opportunity to raise their demand, and the labor union leaders will bring the demand to talk with factory employers and government officials during a meeting scheduled November.
* Interior Minister Promises to Push Through Trade Union Law:
Interior Minister Sar Kheng met with factory owners and investors in the garment sector Wednesday, offering his assurance that the government would pass a controversial Trade Union Law as a means to maintain order in the country’s largest industry, which employs some 600,000 workers.
Mr. Kheng said those under his command would not use force to keep workers in line, but that he would work with the Labor Ministry to push through a law that would give the government more control over unions and the courts power to revoke the registration of unions deemed to be acting illegally.
“I can contribute somehow to prevent demonstrations and find solutions for demonstrations but cannot use force, shoot or use violence against workers,” Mr. Kheng told representatives of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) during a meeting at the Ministry of Interior.
“I acknowledge that there are too many unions,” Mr. Kheng continued, estimating that there are 4,000 unions and 90 union federations operating in the country. “I think it is the government’s responsibility to solve this, and I will cooperate with His Excellency [Labor Minister] Ith Samheng to prepare this law.”
* Garment Factory Rep Says Delaying Wage Vote Won’t Help:
A representative for Cambodia’s garment factories on Tuesday said the government’s last-minute decision to delay a vote on a new minimum wage for the sector was unlikely to bridge the gap between factories and unions and could actually hurt the industry by further shaking buyers’ confidence in the country.
The Labor Advisory Committee (LAC)—composed of representatives from the government, factories and unions—was scheduled to vote on how high to raise the current monthly minimum wage of $100 on Friday. But in a move that took even factory owners by surprise, the Labor Ministry announced on Monday that the committee would instead be meeting sometime in November “to have enough time for the related parties to discuss and consider all angles to reach a consensus all parties can accept.”
But Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said there was “no way in hell” the factories and unions will agree on a new figure with the added time. The unions are pushing for a $77 raise to the current wage, while the factories want a $10 hike.
“It depends on what each stakeholder does during this period,” he said. “If we all do nothing, how [will it] help? Or if we all meet and say the same things again and again and again?”
Drawing on past experience, and the temper of the present negotiations, Mr. Loo said he is not expecting a breakthrough. If he’s right, the LAC will take a vote by secret ballot come November and the Labor Ministry will take that number into consideration and set a new minimum wage that will take effect in January.
Rather than helping matters, Mr. Loo said the government’s surprise move to postpone a decision, and not even set a new date for the LAC’s next meeting, only adds more off what buyers hate most—uncertainty.
“Price, we always claim that it’s one of the most important factors, and it is,” Mr. Loo said. “But before the buyers can even consider your price, they need to have the confidence that we are able to hold on to our end of the bargain, we are able to deliver the goods. If they have no confidence in our promise to uphold the contract, then we can be as cheap as you want…. And the longer you delay, unless you have very clear plans, that’s going to create more uncertainty.”
If anyone does budge, Mr. Loo said it would not be the factories. He said employers are sticking to a $10 raise because it’s all they can afford.
Ath Thorn, who sits on the LAC and heads the largest of the independent unions, welcomed the delay. He said the previous two meetings between all three parties were not enough to get into the details of each other’s positions and was hopeful that more time would make a difference, though he still refused to entertain any new wage less than $150.
“If they had gone ahead with making a decision on October 10, there would have been protests and violence because there have only been two meetings and we haven’t discussed the details, and we heard the [new] wage would have been low,” he said.
“We hope the unions, employers and the ministry will now have more time to talk and find a solution everyone can accept.”
* Unions to march over wage delay:
Six garment unions will hold a march beginning in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Sunday to demand a higher industrial minimum wage, after the Ministry of Labour delayed a meeting about an increase, according to a letter obtained by the Post yesterday.
In the letter, sent to City Hall on Monday, presidents of the six unions said 3,000 people would gather at Freedom Park and then march to US and European embassies, followed by the offices of clothing brands.
“The negotiation on the 2015 minimum wage for garment workers has been delayed without setting a specific date,” the letter reads. “We hope the governor will allow us to use Freedom Park.”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that no decision has been made on whether the event will be allowed.
The Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) had originally planned to set next year’s industrial monthly minimum wage – which is currently $100 – on Friday. On Monday, the ministry delayed this meeting until next month.
Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng also said ministry officials would meet with unions other than the seven on the LAC during this time.
None of the presidents of the six unions that signed on to the letter are on the LAC.
“We know the employers have offered $110,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, and signatory to the letter. “But we need to negotiate for a better wage.”
Ath Thorn, president of Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union and a LAC member, said yesterday that he was not sure if his union would participate, but supports any effort to raise floor salaries.
* Prime Minister Weighs In on Wage Talks:
Prime Minister Hun Sen warned against a steep and sudden rise to the minimum wage in Cambodia’s crucial garment sector at an investment conference in Phnom Penh on Monday, during which government and business leaders were mostly positive about the impact of Cambodia’s coming integration with its neighbors in the region.
The prime minister’s cautionary note came amid tense negotiations between the government, factories and unions over a new monthly minimum wage for the garment industry, which earned more than $5 billion last year. The government on Monday pushed back a vote on a new minimum wage from Friday to next month.
When unions failed to get their way during wage talks in December, they launched nationwide strikes that briefly crippled the industry and ended with the deaths of at least five workers when military police fired into a crowd of protesters in Phnom Penh on January 3.
Some of the same unions are threatening to stage mass strikes again if the current minimum wage of $100 isn’t raised by $77 this year.
Stepping into the fray Monday, Mr. Hun Sen sided with the factories, who are pushing for a more modest $10 wage hike, warning that a more significant raise might drive investors out of the country, as has happened in China.
“I would like people to know clearly that this minimum wage can be a risk,” the prime minister said in his opening remarks at the conference, which was hosted by the International Business Chamber of Cambodia.
“Since China and Thailand increased wages for their workers, there were difficulties immediately for industrial operators who became less competitive because of higher costs, making investors think of moving to a new location,” Mr. Hun Sen said. “So Cambodia has to take this opportunity to think about a proper minimum wage and wait for investors looking for new places to invest.”
The prime minister conceded that Cambodia had a lot of catching up to do with its neighbors, from building up its network of roads to bringing down the price of electricity, the highest in the region. Cambodia also wasted 246 megawatts of capacity this rainy season, he said, because the country lacked the transmission lines to distribute it.
* Wage decision delayed:
Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng yesterday postponed his ministry’s Labour Advisory Committee’s decision on Cambodia’s garment sector minimum wage from Friday until next month, leaving some optimistic and others dubious.
In the original schedule, the minimum wage for 2015 was slated to be set in October and go into effect in January. The LAC had been expected to set the minimum wage unilaterally – a system that concerned some unionists – but according to a statement released by the Labour Ministry yesterday evening, a specific date for the setting of the new wage has yet to be determined.
“If they come up with a better strategy [for setting the wage] in this time, it’s good,” said Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), which is represented on the LAC. “But if they don’t, it will just make people lose confidence and get worried.”
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached yesterday evening for comment.
In past years, the LAC’s two independent unions – C.CAWDU and the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia (NIFTUC) – clashed with unions perceived to be government-leaning, such as the Cambodian Union Federation (CUF). However, this year, all LAC unions met and agreed to seek a minimum monthly wage of $150.
The unprecedented unity among the seven unions represented on the LAC – the 21-member committee also includes seven government representatives and seven factory representatives – is a large part of why the ministry is erring on the side of taking its time, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.
Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center’s labour program, said the Ministry of Labour should do away with the LAC and find a completely new system of setting the minimum wage.
While the LAC sets the minimum wage, by law, it is only supposed to advise the government on wages, Tola said. The makeup of the committee and its perceived power allows it to be the government’s scapegoat.
“The LAC only has the power to advise,” he said.
* Poverty line $120, gov’t says:
Workers in Cambodia’s capital earning less than $120 per month are living below the poverty line, according to the Ministry of Planning’s own calculation.
At a September 17 workshop on the garment industry minimum wage, International Labour Organization Cambodia national director Tun Sophorn cited Ministry of Planning data that put the poverty line at $120, he said yesterday.
“One hundred and twenty dollars in Phnom Penh is the poverty line [according to the Planning Ministry],” Sophorn said, adding that the ILO was still investigating this figure.
The information comes as the Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee prepares to set next year’s garment sector minimum wage on October 10. The current industrial minimum monthly wage is $100, putting garment workers earning minimum wage $20 below the poverty line.
* US blamed for low wages:
The minimum wage issue took centre stage in the National Assembly yesterday, with the government arguing that if the US cut “unjust” import duties for Cambodian garments, factories could afford to pay the $177 wage demanded by unions and the opposition.
During a debate on a draft law on the control of factories and handicrafts – passed unanimously by both parties – Minister of Industry and Handicraft Cham Prasidh laid out the government’s position on the contentious wage question.
Although Prime Minister Hun Sen “wants so much” to increase workers’ salaries, even beyond $177, it is impossible because “all the factories will run away”, Prasidh told the assembly.
“If we demand too much, our rice pot will turn upside down and we will not have rice to eat,” he said, proposing that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party work together with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to find a solution that keeps factories alive.
Cambodia exported about $5 billion worth of garments worldwide last year, Prasidh said, but paid $500 million in import duties to the United States alone, the destination for about half of those garments.
Given the figures, the minister claimed that a relaxation of the US’ tough tax regime on garment imports would free up plenty of cash to pay workers more.
According to Prasidh, France and Britain exported some $30 billion and $40 billion worth of goods to the US last year, respectively, but paid a similar dollar amount on duties as Cambodia, a developing country.
“It is so unjust for us. It means that these days we help America with $500 million every year,” he said, adding that the government should lobby Washington on the issue.
* Minimum wage increase will not lead to closure of factories: Sam Rainsy:
The opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that he would like to see the increase in the minimum wage of the garment workers, claiming that the increase will not lead to the closure of factories.
Mr. Sam Rainsy said the livelihood of the workers would depend on the minimum wage. And the government has an obligation to help them with the increase in the minimum wage.
“Some said that demanding the raise in minimum wage would trigger the factories to close. I think it is not right. More factors that make the factories close are corruption, under-table money, and high cost of transpiration and electricity,” said Mr. Saim Rainsy at the sideline of the parliamentary session yesterday.
* Gov’t letter to brands ‘lacking in substance’:
A government letter that responded lukewarmly to an offer last month from eight global brands to pay more for clothes so that garment workers can earn higher wages has been met with a shrug by some worker advocates.
Dated September 26, the letter from Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng is addressed to “Representatives of Global Brands”.
It thanks them for their offer to increase the price – and volume of orders – for garments purchased from Cambodian factories, then goes on to describe the process of meetings between unions, factories and government officials leading up to the October 10 decision on the sector’s minimum wage, which will be implemented on January 1.
“We are very pleased to hear that you wish to increase your purchasing volumes and prices for our products,” Sam Heng’s letter reads. “Indeed. [sic] this is really a positive signal for Employers to consider the possibilities of increasing minimum wage.”
Advocates for higher salaries were not impressed with the vague tone of the letter.
“There’s no mention of a fair wage or living wage. It’s getting pretty ridiculous,” said Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center.
* With Wage Hike, Workers to Face Higher Taxes:
The director-general of the Finance Ministry’s tax department told union leaders Wednesday that garment workers, currently guaranteed a monthly salary of $100, need to be prepared to pay an income tax once the minimum wage increases in January.
Many of the 600,000 workers employed in the garment sector can expect to start paying a 5 percent income tax if their total monthly salary, including bonuses and allowances, gets bumped past 500,000 riel, or $125, Kong Vibol told union representatives at a workshop at Raffles Hotel.
Next week, the Labor Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives of the government, factory owners and unions, is expected to vote on a new minimum wage. Union leaders are demanding a $77 increase while factory owners are calling for a more modest $10 raise.
Mr. Vibol explained that under the 1997 taxat