Civil Servants Say They Suffer Poor Wages in Silence

Teachers, hospital workers, soldiers say they share woes of garment workers

As more than 10,000 garment factory workers went on strike this week to protest against what they considered an insufficient increase to their minimum wage, civil servants, including teachers, police officers, soldiers and health workers, also said that their salaries are too low.

Protesting garment factory workers complained that the newly set minimum wage of $61 per month was not enough for them to survive, although many of the country’s nearly 200,000 civil servants and roughly 110,000 in the military earn similar wages or far less—as little as $35 per month in some cases.

“It’s not fair, but I just struggle to work,” said a 50-year-old Phnom Penh primary schoolteacher, who declined to be named for fear of losing her job, even if it was very poorly paid.

The teacher said she earns $40 per month and is forced to supplement her salary by selling groceries outside her home in Phnom Penh.

“I spend very economically, around 10,000 riel [$2.38] a day,” she said.

Despite struggling to get by, she said, teachers remain silent for fear of losing their jobs.

“Everyone feels afraid of staging a protest,” she said.

Prum Setha, 43, a father of five and an anesthesiologist at the military-run Preah Ket Mealea hospital in Phnom Penh, said that his $70 monthly salary is not enough to get by on.

“This salary cannot support my family. I have to try to get more income from other businesses,” he said, noting that he also works at a private clinic and out of his home to make ends meet. Mr Setha said that despite his financial woes he would not dare complain about his salary.

“If [the government] increases my salary I will take it, but I have been working here for so long I don’t think about protesting,” he said.

RCAF sergeant Hem Horm told reporters that the $64 monthly salary he earns also forces him to moonlight work other than soldiering.

“It is not enough, but I just struggle to work,” Mr Horm said, noting that despite serving in the military for 17 years, he works as a motorcycle taxi driver in the evenings to provide for himself.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association and the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said that the present wage of civil servants is so low that most have a second jobs. The only way to change this, Mr Chhun said, is for civil servants to take a stand and demand more from the government.

“If all civil servants and teachers do not wake up and hold hands to protest to the government then their salary will not change,” Mr Chhun said, adding that teachers generally earn $30 to $70 per month.

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, chairman of National Assembly Finance and Banking Commission, declined to comment yesterday as to whether or not civil servants are adequately paid, but noted that Prime Minister Hun Sen has pledged an annual 15 percent increase in civil servant salaries but that promise still depends on the health of the national budget.

“We have to check in our pocket” to see how much salaries can be increased, Mr Yeap said.

A deputy school principle, speaking on the condition of anonymity in his office in a Phnom Penh primary school, said that teachers at his school earn less than garment workers and should be paid between $150 and $200 per month.

“If we got this salary then teachers would perform better in class and not take money from students,” he said, referring to the now normal practice of teachers taking payments from students.

 

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