The government could settle on a new minimum wage for the country’s dominant garment industry today after a working group tasked with recommending a figure decided to scrap a vote in the face of persistent differences between unions and employers.
The working group, comprising government, union and factory representatives, was set to vote on Wednesday on the three sides’ separate proposals for a raise to the current monthly minimum wage of $140 after failing to reach a consensus over the course of three prior meetings.
Union leader Ath Thorn rallies garment workers at an industrial park in Phnom Penh amid wage negotiations in October 2015. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)As of Wednesday, the three sides remained far apart, with the employers at $147, the government at $148 and the unions at $171. Instead of settling the matter by vote, however, the working group agreed on Wednesday to simply send all three figures to the similarly tripartite but smaller Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), which in turn will make its proposal to the Labor Ministry.
“We had agreed to vote if we could not find a consensus,” ministry spokesman Heng Suor said on Wednesday. “But this morning we discussed the matter and we decided to send each side’s submission to the LAC for review. There is no need to vote.”
In previous years, the unions have consistently lost the vote, but have sent the advisory committee their proposed figure for consideration anyway.
Mr. Suor said the advisory committee, dominated by government representatives, would vote on the three proposals today, leaving the final decision to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“The LAC will make a proposal and the prime minister and the government will consider whether to increase it or keep it. We expect a decision tomorrow,” he said.
Before the working group scrapped the vote, the union representatives made one final stab at narrowing the gap between them and employers. They climbed down to $171 from $177.59.
Union leader Ath Thorn said his side agreed to soften its position in response to employers, who had edged up their proposed figure, if only by a matter of cents.
“We decided on $171 because the employers went up, so we went down,” he said.
He expected the garment sector’s new minimum wage to settle at or slightly above $150, after the LAC vote goes in favor of the government’s proposed figure and Mr. Hun Sen adds a few dollars on top of that, as happened last year. The new wage will take effect in January.
Employers have warned that a large wage increase could cripple the industry, which makes up the bulk of the country’s export economy. Yet the sector has maintained strong growth in the face of large raises over the past few years.
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