2 June, 2014Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, affiliates from across Asia discussed strategies and mechanisms for delivering living wage outcomes for workers
The fight for living wages is particularly acute in the Asian region where countries compete to provide low wage environments to attract the business of global buyers in the garment, electronics and other supply chain industries.
Affiliates from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia are all engaged in struggles to raise wages, primarily by campaigning to raise minimum wages but also through collective bargaining. IndustriALL’s regional living wage workshop, which took place in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on May 27-28 gave them an opportunity to share their experiences and develop action plans.
For most countries in the region, government minimum wage fixing mechanisms at national, regional or sectoral level are used as the principal means of increasing wages, but none of these are delivering living wages. Where unions have sufficient strength and capacity, minimum wages are supplemented by collective bargaining at plant level. In very few cases are unions able to negotiate wage increases that apply beyond individual factories. Examples were given of company agreements covering several plants in the same country, factory agreements that also cover sub-contractors and regional level bargaining with industry employer associations.
The workshop looked at how unions could expand bargaining beyond the plant level and so deliver higher wage outcomes for larger groups of workers. Unity amongst affiliates is crucial in the process. Union bargaining skills will also need to be improved, especially in arguing for living wages. A useful presentation was given by WageIndicator which collects comparative data on wages from a large number of countries that can be used for bargaining purposes (www.wageindicator.org).
Affiliates agreed that the IndustriALL focus on living wages gives the opportunity to take national campaigns to global level through solidarity action. Potential exists for agreements on living wages in specific countries between global and local unions, brands and suppliers, following the model established by the Bangladesh Accord. International solidarity will be needed to push the brands to discuss living wages with their suppliers.
The workshop concluded that to successfully deliver living wages to workers, unions will need to go beyond factory-level bargaining and beyond government minimum wage-setting mechanisms. Thai unions in the textile, garment and shoe industry are already discussing how to start the process of discussion with the sector employers’ federation for a living wage in the industry.
IndustriALL’s living wage strategy will be debated by the global Executive Committee at its next meeting on June 25-26 in Geneva.