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Mobilizing for living wages

27 February, 2015All over the world, the IndustriALL Global Union family is mobilizing for a living wage for all workers. In 2014, good steps forward were taken in Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere. But there is a long way to go. 

In December 2014, one million workers took to the streets again in major cities of Indonesia, demanding higher wages. As a result, new minimum wages now reach US$ 240-260 per month in the biggest production areas. Thanks to strategic action and major mobilizations, Indonesian workers have doubled their salaries since 2011. And they will continue to demand their fair share of corporate profits.

Cambodia was campaign ground most of the year. After security forces killed five workers in demonstrations in January 2014, IndustriALL launched strategic action with our union and NGO allies and major clothing brands to build a bargaining process that would lead to living wages for 500,000 garment workers.

After two global action days, two rounds of talks with leading brands, the Cambodian government and employers, and more united action by unions, the prime minister confirmed the new monthly minimum wage of US$ 128 in November. It is still far away from a living wage, yet 70 per cent higher than in 2013.   

Wages are rising all over Asia. In January 2015, Vietnam raised its minimum wage from 128 to 146 dollars per month, and China’s main industrial production areas have reached US$ 300. Myanmar will confirm its first ever minimum wage this year.

Guaranteeing a living wage for all workers in our industries is one of key campaigns of IndustriALL Global Union. Workers have to be paid enough during regular working hours to cover the costs of housing, food, health care and education. Only this way can we manage to reduce excessive overtime which shockingly led to the death of three Cambodian garment workers last year.  

IndustriALL’s strategy is focused on three key elements:

  1. Supporting affiliates in national minimum wage campaigns
  2. Increasing unions’ bargaining capacity through workshops in Asia Pacific, Latin America, Sub-Saharan African, and Middle East and North Africa
  3. Engaging global brands to support freedom of association and collective bargaining throughout their supply chains   

IndustriALL is in discussions with key brands in our biggest sector, the textile and garment industry which employs 60 million workers in the world, to develop industry level bargaining and enable living wages through their purchasing practices. The brands have considerable leverage with their suppliers and host country governments. They need to pay more for their products.

Nothing will however change if we do not have union strength and unity on the ground. Organizing and mobilization of workers in joint action remain indispensable for success in our fight for living wages.

Jyrki Raina

General Secretary