Cambodia said Thursday that it would raise the monthly minimum wage of garment workers to U.S. $140 next year, prompting a rebuke by some independent unions that had demanded $20 more for laborers in the Southeast Asian nation.
The Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) — the country’s wage-setting group comprised of 28 representatives from government, unions and employers — voted to approve $135 for the new minimum wage, while the government agreed to pay an extra $5 per person subsidy.
The new minimum wage, which is $12 more than the current one, takes effect in January for Cambodia’s 700,000 garment industry workers. Garment workers currently receive a minimum wage of $128 a month.
Some independent worker unions, however, said they are not satisfied with the nearly 9.4-percent increase.
Ath Thon, President of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) said U.S. $140 would not be enough for garment factory employees to earn a decent living because of inflation.
The health of workers in Cambodia’s 700 garment factories has been deteriorating because they must work overtime to make enough money to sustain themselves, he said.
“The increase is not enough, because it won’t help workers to have decent living standards,” he said.
During eight days of negotiations, the government had proposed a monthly minimum wage of U.S. $135, while the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), which represents employers, asked for $133.
The C.CAWDU and three other independent unions walked out of the negotiations on Wednesday night during the vote on a figure to submit to the LAC, The Phnom Penh Post reported.
Ath Thon told the newspaper that a large demonstration against the new minimum wage would be held after this month’s Pchum Ben, a 15-day Cambodian religious festival.
Minister of Labor Ith Samheng urged unions not to protest and demand an even higher minimum wage.
“We will reach the unions’ demand [of U.S. $160] soon,” he said. “We will continue to discuss the monthly minimum wage next year.”
“The workers don’t need to protest [the LAC’s] decision,” he continued. “Is is the best decision in order to ensure social harmony.”
But Ath Thon accused LAC members from unions of being biased toward the government, noting that four of the seven union representatives on the committee voted in favor of the government’s proposed figure.
COTOP 1 garment factory worker Mei Mei said she is not happy with the new minimum wage.
“It is not enough,” she said. “We need U.S. $150-$160 to have a decent standard of living.”
Cambodia’s multibillion-dollar garment industry is often beleaguered by protests and strikes for higher wages, better working work conditions, and food and transportation subsidies.
Reported by Tha Kitya for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Reported in English by Roseanne Gerin.