Cambodian unions still not satisfied with minimum wage increase
Cambodian unions have reacted with anger to the Government’s decision to fix next year’s minimum wage for garment workers at $153 a month, way below the $171 pcm that unions had demanded, although marginally higher than the $147 proposed by employers and up by $13 a month from the 2016 minimum of $140 pcm. The garment industry employs between 600,000 and a million people in Cambodia, many of them women, and generates over $6bn a year for the economy (enough to pay considerably higher wages.)
Unions in Cambodia, backed by global federations like IndustriALL and the International Trade Union Confederation, have pushed up the minimum wage for the garment workers who generate Cambodia’s biggest export earnings from just $80 a month in 2013. They have used a range of campaign tools, from mass protests and strikes that led to vicious state repression, to leveraging the influence of global brands and multinational enterprises.
The government’s announcement of the increase also included a requirement that other benefits workers receive should not be reduced to mitigate the impact on wage bills – a problem that affected UK workers when the government introduced the so-called national living wage earlier this year.
But next year’s minimum is still not sufficient. Trade union leader Ath Thorn said:
“We are not satisfied with this wage because we think it cannot pay for a suitable living. Whether there will be protests will depend on discussions with the workers, but I think protesting this time will be a bit difficult. We, the negotiators, are under court supervision and workers are having a hard time protesting lately because of restrictions from employers and authorities.”
Although brands have consistently committed to keep production in Cambodia, some local employers are complaining about the new wage because it is so much higher than the Bangladesh minimum of $64. But other employers recognise the higher Cambodian wages require their industry to produce higher value clothing.