Cambodia Ups Minimum Wages for Workers

2013-03-21
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Union representatives gather to discuss minimum wage for workers, Feb. 26, 2013.
RFA

The Cambodian government on Thursday announced a higher minimum wage of U.S. $80 per month for garment and footwear workers, but workers at one factory were not impressed, vowing to continue a strike until the wage is raised to U.S. $100.

A tripartite meeting between the government, unions, and Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) agreed to raise the minimum wage of workers from U.S. $61 to U.S. $73, plus an additional U.S. $5 as a form of health benefit, Minister of Social Affairs Ith Samheng said in a statement.

Prime Minister Hun Sen had asked the GMAC to add an additional U.S. $2 per month, to which the group had agreed, bringing the total to U.S. $80, the statement said.

The government had approved the new minimum wage, which would take effect May 1, providing workers with their new income by the end of May or early June, it said.

A working group had been established to conduct a study on the minimum wage, the statement said, and would hold regular annual discussions with the government about whether the amount was sufficient. The group also has the power to convene at other times if necessary.

"The government appeals to the union, the workers and their employers to cooperate and respect the new minimum wage in order to protect the employment and living standards of the workers,” it read.

“Please avoid conduct such as strikes or demonstrations that could affect the benefits of both workers and their employers."

Workers angered

But the announcement immediately drew the ire of workers from the Win Star garment factory in southwestern Cambodia’s Kompong Speu province, where about 7,000 employees went on strike two days ago, sealing off National Road 3, to demand a minimum wage of U.S. $100 per month.

"We can’t accept a new minimum wage of U.S. $80,” worker Bin Srey Mom told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“We will continue the strike,” she said, adding that workers had demanded additional benefits as well.

A worker named Neang Sophy, who also participated in the Win Star worker strike, said that in addition to minimum wage demands, workers had called on their employer to improve factory working conditions, including the toilet facilities.

Cambodia Confederation of Unions President Rong Chhun said his union would not accept the new minimum wage and vowed to continue to fight for a U.S. $100 per month salary.

“Our stance is that if we don't get U.S. $100, there will be a movement to encourage the government and the factory to increase it,” he said.

Tense talks

An increase of U.S. $19 per month in minimum wage represented only a U.S. $8 bump up from the GMAC’s position of U.S. $72 when negotiations opened at the end of February.

The unions had originally demanded U.S. $120, but dropped down to U.S. $100 after one day of talks.

Around 70 representatives had attended initial talks between the two sides. The GMAC dispatched only two officials to the meeting, and neither was authorized to change the stance of the employers, as GMAC President Van Sou Ieng was traveling outside of the country.

Ministry of Labor Under Secretary of State Sat Samouth said at the beginning of negotiations that he expected the minimum wage to be “defined before April.”

Cambodia’s 300,000 textile workers often work long shifts for little pay in the garment factories, trade unions complain. The garment industry is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.