Cambodia’s Ministry of Labor announced on Wednesday that the minimum wage for the country’s garment workers will be raised from U.S. $100 to U.S. $128 per month beginning next year, but a workers' union representative called the increase inadequate.
The announcement followed a majority vote among 25 members of a Labor Advisory Committee (LAC)--representing unions, employers, and the government--approving a wage increase to U.S. $123 per month, to which U.S. $5 was then added by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“The new minimum wage is $128, and will be in effect from January 2015,” a Ministry statement said following the vote.
“The Ministry would like to express thanks to Samdech Hun Sen for providing $5 extra to help improve workers’ living standards,” the statementy said, using an honorific term for the prime minister.
Workers’ representatives to talks within the LAC had sought a new minimum wage of $140 per month, while the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), representing employers, had asked for an increase only to $110.
Added to other benefits already in place--including bonuses and monthly subsidies for housing, transportation, and food--“the workers will now receive at least $147 to $156 [per month],” the Ministry statement said.
“After taking all aspects into consideration, we believe that workers’ living standards will be improved over those of previous years and that the factories will be able to pay them,” Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng told reporters following the vote.
Unions reject deal
But a union representative said on Wednesday that unions won’t accept the deal.
“We are not satisfied with the offer,” Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said.
“This is not enough compared to what we had expected. The new minimum wage is not appropriate to what the workers are spending,” he said.
Hun Sen’s move to add $5 to the new monthly wage is “just an attempt to calm the workers down,” he added.
LAC deputy chairman and GMAC representative Nang Sothy meanwhile said that employers will reluctantly agree to pay the new wage, though increased costs may force 30 to 50 factories to close next year, with at least 50,000 workers laid off, he said.
He added that he will ask the Ministry of Labor to “intervene” to lower taxes so that the factories can continue operations.
“We are prepared to ask for intervention to avoid any risks,” he said.
Strikes by Cambodian garment workers beginning late last year led to a deadly security crackdown in January and a ban on demonstrations, lifted only in July.
The clothing industry accounts for 52 percent of Cambodia’s total exports, according to an International Labor Organization (ILO) report in August.
Although it is one of the top 20 apparel producers in the world, Cambodia has among the lowest minimum monthly wages in the industry, the report said.
Reported by Tep Nimol for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.