Photographed in 2012, Garment worker Rorm Ravy, 18, from Kampong Thom lives in a rented room with other 4 garment workers from the same factory. © ILO/ Livingston Armytage
Cambodia’s minimum wage: employers plead poverty despite global brand pledges to pay
Cambodia is one of the main sources of textiles for Europe and North America, and it’s on the front line of the campaign for a living wage in global supply chains. So the forthcoming review of the minimum wage for garment workers (the only minimum wage that exists in the South East Asian country) is vitally important not just for the mostly female workforce in the industry which produces Cambodia’s main exports. You won’t be surprised to know that, in a pre-emptive move, Cambodia’s reactionary textile industry employers are pleading poverty.
GMAC, the industry association for garment manufacturers, has announced that 63% of its members, who own 500+ export factories, want no increase in 2016 on the $128 a month set this January. A further 26% wanted the rise limited to $5, whereas unions in Cambodia want the minimum wage to rise towards a living wage of $177 a month, $49 above the current level. The unions in Cambodia have indicated that strikes are likely if the minimum wage is not raised significantly, but Ath Thorn, president of the largest independent union, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said he expected GMAC to gradually raise its negotiating position and was starting at zero to keep the new minimum wage as low as possible. He said:
“This is one of the strategies of GMAC…because they expect an increase, but they don’t want a big increase.”
Unions have identified supply chains and the brands who buy from the Cambodian manufacturers as a key element of the campaign. Western garment brands like H&M (many of them members of the UK’s tripartite Ethical Trading Initiative that is backed by the TUC, ITUC and global manufacturing union IndustriALL) have told Cambodian employers and government – as they did last year – that they will pay the increased prices needed to pay for a living wage. And the ILO has pointed out that last year’s increase – far from harming the industry as GMAC claimed at the time – actually saw the number of factories and the size of the workforce expand.
Unions in Cambodia are, at the same time, fighting to ensure that the Government’s review of labour law doesn’t restrict the freedom of workers to join a union of their choice by deregistering unions, as well as creating further obstacles to collective bargaining and the right to strike. Western brands are backing the union case there too, along with the TUC, whose General Secretary wrote to the Cambodian government earlier this month.