Cambodian labor unions lower minimum wage demands
Unions agree to call for $150 a month, instead of prior demand for 60 percent increase to country’s $100 minimum wage

Cambodian labor unions this week lowered their demands for a 60 percent increase to the country’s $100 minimum wage, as talks loom next month on setting a new wage.

Unions agreed to call for $150 a month during a meeting with officials from the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, which represents employers in the $5-billion garment industry, TheCambodia Daily reported Friday.

Unions had been pushing for $160 for at least a year and even raised the demand to $177 in recent weeks, saying that it was a more accurate reflection of the cost of living amid an increase in inflation.

The new called-for wage, however, is still significantly higher than what factory representatives have said they would concede to - they announced after Monday’s meeting that they had settled upon $110 per month.

The new benchmarks come against a backdrop of charges aimed at unionists that international rights organization Human Rights Watch called "politically motivated” in a statement Thursday.

Six of Cambodia’s most prominent unionists - Pav Sina, Chea Mony, Ath Thorn, Rong Chhun, Morm Nhim and Yang Sophon - were handed charges by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over mass minimum wage protests in December and January.

Five people were killed when military police shot into the crowds of people, injuring dozens more.

The union leaders have been accused of causing intentional violence and damage with aggravating circumstances, as well as blocking traffic - crimes that carry prison sentences of at least 14 years.

"Cambodian authorities are pursuing trumped-up charges against labour activists in an apparent attempt to get them to abandon demands for better pay and conditions,” the statement quoted HRW’s Asia director, Brad Adams, as saying.

"This is just the latest government effort to scare activists and the political opposition into dropping plans to use protests to advance their causes,” he added.

The charged men are the presidents of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, Free Trade Union, Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, Cambodian Confederation of Unions, National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia and the Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions, respectively, which plan to launch a renewed campaign for higher wages September 17.

They have been ordered to appear in court before the end of the month.

Cambodia lags behind its neighbors in how much its workers — 600,000 of whom work in the country’s $5-billion garment sector — are paid for their labor. In Vietnam last month, the National Wage Council announced incremental increases that would see the minimum wage there hover between $114 and $146 per month, while Thailand last year introduced a minimum wage of 300 baht ($9) per day.

The Clean Clothes Campaign says $100 falls 21 percent short of what it considers to be a living wage for Cambodia’s workers.

The garment industry has also been heavily criticized for making employees work overtime and leaving them in hazardous conditions.

Last Modified: 2014-09-06 08:03:28
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