Cambodian Workers Demand Wage Hike Under Watchful Gaze of Military

cambodia-workers-minimum-wage-sept-2014.jpg Workers demonstrate in Phnom Penh for an increase in the monthly minimum wage, Sept. 17, 2014.

Closely watched by the military, hundreds of Cambodian garment workers held rallies Wednesday to highlight their demand for a U.S. $77 increase in their monthly minimum wage.

About 1,000 workers gathered outside garment factories at the Canadia Industrial Park in the capital Phnom Penh to seek an increase of their wage to U.S. $177, rights group Licadho said, accusing soldiers armed with rifles nearby of intimidating the workers.

“We are demanding that employers raise workers’ wages,” Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said as labor activists joined the demonstrations during lunch break.

Good timing

Cambodian military personnel near an area where garment workers factory gathered to demand a wage increase, Sept. 17, 2014. (RFA photo)
Cambodian military personnel near an area where garment workers factory gathered to demand a wage increase, Sept. 17, 2014. (RFA photo)

The unions timed the demonstration before a meeting of the Labor Advisory Committee (LAC), an organization of employers, the government, and unions, on Sept. 26 during which officials will discuss a possible minimum wage increase in January 2015.

Product buyers are letting the unions negotiate a new minimum wage with employers now, but the government will later determine what the amount will be, Ath Thon said.

“The buyers support us to reach a solution because a low minimum wage will affect their reputation,” he said.

One worker, Mom Rithy, told RFA that a salary increase would help ease labor disputes.

“If the unions, factories, and government work out an increase in the minimum wage to U.S. $177, we can reduce the number of many labor-related disputes,” he said. “If there is no solution, we will have more demonstrations and strikes.”

Strikes by garment workers beginning late last year resulted in a deadly security crackdown in January and a ban on demonstrations, lifted only in July.

Decent living standard

Mek Sokleap, another worker, told RFA she wants a decent standard of living.

A recent study conducted by a task force set up by a government ministry found that workers need a minimum livable wage of U.S. $157-U.S. $177 a month to cover their basic needs.

Employers had rejected a previous demand by unions and workers for a wage hike to U.S. $160 after raising salaries to U.S. $100 from U.S. $80 this year.

Cheath Khemara, senior labor officer of the country’s Garment Manufacturing Association (GMA), which represents the factories on the LAC, said his organization would comply with any LAC’s decision on the issue and not talk privately to unions in the meantime.

Garment workers’ unions vowed to restart protests if the GMA raised the minimum wage to only U.S. $115 next year, as the organization proposed during at a meeting last month, The Phnom Penh Post reported.

Reported by Keo Minol for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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