Cambodia Gives Garment Workers a Raise

2016-09-29
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Cambodian garment workers walk in front of their factories in Phnom Penh, Oct. 8, 2015.
Cambodian garment workers walk in front of their factories in Phnom Penh, Oct. 8, 2015.
AFP

The Cambodian government agreed to raise the minimum wage for clothing and footwear workers by about 9 percent in a move that failed to satisfy either the garment workers’ unions or the manufacturers.

On Thursday the Ministry of Labor, Vocational and Training announced that the minimum wage for the crucial sector of Cambodia’s economy would rise to U.S. $153 per month beginning next year. Currently the minimum wage of workers is $140.

While the increase falls short of the $171-a-month wage proposal pushed by the unions, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) fears that the increase will damage their ability to compete with other lower-wage countries. Manufactures wanted a $147-per-month,

“I think the increase is a bit higher than what we are able to pay,” GMAC Deputy General Secretary Kaing Monika told RFA’s Khmer Service. “But it is within the government’s discretionary rights to make the decision.  The factory side will wait and see the reality in 2017 after the increase.”

While the GMAC frets that the increase is too much, the President of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU), Ath Thon told RFA that they will stick to their $171-per-month demand.

“For us as the workers union representatives, we are not satisfied with the result,” he told RFA.

Wages in Cambodia remain low by international standards, largely because of pressures to compete with other low-cost production centers such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.

In 2015, the Southeast Asian country shipped nearly $7 billion worth of products to the United States and Europe, according to the Associated Press. About 700,000 people work in the more than 700 garment and shoe factories located in Cambodia.

The labor ministry’s statement said the decision was made after six days of tense negotiations by a commission representing employers, workers and the government.

According to local media reports, Prime Minister Hun Sen stepped in at the last minute to push the figure up by $5.

“The result of our voting today is overwhelmingly in support of $148 and the head of the government…decided to add $5 more, so the minimum wage in 2017 is $153,” said Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng, according to a report in The Cambodia Daily.

The move comes as elections in Cambodia loom and labor usually allies with Hun Sen’s opposition.

Labor’s ability to mobilize protestors has long been a concern for Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Four years ago, a union campaign to double the then-minimum wage of $80 resulted in clashes with police and a crackdown on public protests. In early 2014, at least four people were killed and more than 20 injured when police in the outskirts of Phnom Penh opened fire to break up a protest by striking garment workers.

Reported by Vuthy Tha for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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