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Cambodia’s Unions Make New Demands, Threaten Protests

Cambodia wage negotiations

Eight unions representing Cambodia’s garment workers on Tuesday issued a list of 13 demands and threatened to protest if their requests are not met.

The news comes less than two weeks after Prime Minister Hun Sen stated that, starting in January, the sector’s monthly minimum wage would be $140—a 9 percent increase that fell short of the $160-a-month the unions had asked for.

Following the announcement, the country’s garment manufacturers called for higher productivity ahead of the projected raise.

But now, according to Cambodia Daily, the unions are demanding a quid pro quo arrangement, calling on factory owners, brands and government to consider increasing lunch stipends, improving transport and living conditions, control of utility and commodity prices and ending short-term contracts and legal harassment of union leaders.

“In case the government, companies, producers and buyers do not arrange to negotiate over the above demands, we will protest in public in the future,” the statement said.

Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers, said it takes more than a pay raise to ensure decent lives for workers.

“If the employers and government agree to the demands, it will improve [workers’] living conditions alongside their minimum wages, because we still see there is discrimination and the use of the court system to put pressure on unions who help workers fight for their rights,” he said.

But the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which had opposed any increase in workers’ wages (fearing that factories would lose business to other low-cost countries), stressed the need to raise productivity levels.

“We now need to see all parties, including the buyers, focus on improving productivity to help offset rising costs and keep factories economically viable,” said Ken Loo, GMAC secretary general.

Meanwhile, Alt Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), was quoted in the Phnom Penh Post as saying that if factories did not improve conditions, then output would not change.

“What [employers] have to do is to have skillful management, stop discriminating against workers and stop using short-term contracts,” he said.