PHNOM PENH, July 8 (Reuters) – Cambodia’s government and several unions agreed on Thursday to a 9-percent minimum wage rise for garment workers but the industry’s biggest unions said their demands were not met and a strike was still possible.
Garment workers have threatened a nationwide strike in Cambodia, where minimum wages are among the world’s lowest, if pay levels fail to rise sharply in an industry vital to the impoverished country’s nascent economic recovery.
Labor Minister Vong Sauth said wages would rise from $56 a month to $61from Oct. 1 under a new four-year agreement that would be strictly enforced.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union (FTU), which had demanded a $70 minimum monthly wage and organised a strike for July 13-15, told Reuters those who voted did not represent the majority of workers. He had not been invited to the talks.
"We were not included to provide opinions," he said, adding he wanted to see more details of the agreement before deciding whether to go ahead with a strike.
His union was one of two in the industry — Cambodia’s third-biggest earner behind agriculture and tourism — that did not vote on Thursday.
Ath Thorn, president of Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, which represents about 40,000 workers and had sought a $93 monthly wage, told reporters he would ask his members if they agreed with the new wage.
"If they don’t agree with this, we will strike. A $5 wage increase is not the demand of the workers," he said.
Five largely pro-government unions backed the pay increase, which was in-line with a June 25 government recommendation to the Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents 230 factories employing about 200,000 people.
The workers currently receive $50 a month plus a $6 living allowance bonus.
Van Sou Ieng, the chairman of the GMAC, said the unions’ demands were not justified and that workers could afford living expenses in Cambodia, where annual inflation averaged about five percent last year.
Cambodia’s garment industry shed almost 30,000 jobs in 2009 after a drop in sales to the United States and Europe.
GMAC data showed the country exported garments, textiles and shoes to the value of $2.3 billion last year, down from $2.9 billion in 2008. More than half go to the United States.