Cambodian Workers Demand Higher Wage

The Cambodian government has announced a higher minimum monthly wage of 80 US dollars for garment and footwear workers.

It’s below the demanded 100 US dollars, so workers stay they will continue their campaign till that demand is met.  

Sorn Sarath talks to the workers in Phnom Penh.

In the front of a small room in Meanchey district in Phnom Penh, a group of five workers are cooking their lunch.

38-year-old Srey Own has worked at a textile factory for 7 years now.

Sitting on a small bamboo bed, she says she just heard about the new wage.

“For me it’s still small because workers need to spend a lot on food, water, electricity and renting house. It’s not enough and I think 100 US dollars is fair for us.”

The new wage is an increase from 61 to 75 US dollars a month, plus an additional of 5 US dollars in health benefits.

The announcement followed recent talks between unions and the government’s trade body.

Van Sou Ieng is chairman of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia.

“We think that it is appropriate to raise the minimum wage because the cost of living has improved and we have to compete with ASEAN countries. And it’s a negotiation between the trade union and employers.”

The Asia Floor Wage Alliance is a union-based group that campaigns for fair pay in Asia.

They argue that nearly 300 US dollars a month is a fair living wage for the average worker.

Cambodia unions are not demanding that much yet…..what they want is 100 US dollars as a minimum wage.

Rong Chhun is the President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions.

“If we can’t reach the deal, then the final choice is to hold a non-violence demonstration. Perhaps in May, ahead of the national election.”

Workers’ wage is a sensitive issue for political parties.

The opposition has already pledged to deliver a 150 US dollars minimum wage for garment workers.

The textile industry is the country’s biggest employer and a key export earner, with more than 300 factories and 400 thousand workers.

But strikes can hamper investment climates says Van Sou Ieng from the Association.

He takes Indonesia as an example, where at least 10 companies with 10,000 workers are considering closing their businesses in the country due to labour issues.

“Many factories closing now or intend to close or how many factories or enterprise comply with this minimum wage increase.”

Van Sou Ieng is worried that this would happen to Cambodia as well.

Last week the government created a working group with representatives from the factory, ministries and unions to review the minimum wage each year.

Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Unions says a wage increase will prevent factories from leaving Cambodia.

“Increasing a reasonable wage for workers will reduce strike and workers will have more power for more productivity. We keep labor force locally rather than to work abroad and we also can curb immigration to abroad.”

The current wage of garment workers in Cambodia compares poorly with those in Thailand where they earn more than 200 US dollars a month.

Garment worker Srey Own says if the salary is still this low she will cross the border.

“I plan to work in Thailand because they give higher salary and they provide a dormitory. If the wage increases more in Cambodia, I won’t go anywhere because I want to take care of my children.”

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