Civil Servants Urged to Strike for Higher Pay

A group representing public-sector workers has called on the country’s civil servants to follow in the footsteps of teachers and begin a peaceful strike to demand higher salaries.

A statement disseminated Thursday by the Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association (CICA), which claims to have 1,530 members, said the current salaries of government workers are not sufficient in the face of rising prices, and called on the government to introduce a minimum monthly wage of 1 million riel, or $250, with a promise to raise salaries, in due course, to 2 million riel, or $500.

“Seeing that civil servants’ salaries are low and don’t match the rising price of the market, which keeps rising from day to day, and based on the Statute of Civil Servants and other pertinent regulations, Cambodia’s Independent Civil Servants Association would like to appeal to officials from all institutions to come out and strike peacefully by not working in order that the government give the minimum wage of 2 million riel,” the statement says.

CICA vice president Buth Kosal said members of the association should “start striking from now on with the Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), which is striking and asking for the same amount of salary across the country.”

Mr. Kosal said the call to strike for better wages was bolstered by a similar movement—now aborted—by garment workers, who are seeking a minimum wage of $160.

“We’ve seen that the livelihoods of garment workers and civil servants are not different,” he said. “They have asked for a proper minimum wage for a proper livelihood.”

“The Ministry of Labor has said that it will give the [garment] workers $160 by 2018,” he said. “Civil servants want to know how many years for us?” Mr. Kosal asked, adding that higher salaries would ultimately help stamp out “corruption, tea money, injustice and unnecessary bureaucracy.”

Regarding the strike action, government workers could either walk off the job, or do as teachers have done in recent days at schools and go to work, but refuse to perform their duties.

“We’ll stay in this position until there’s a solution from the government,” Mr. Kosal said. “The government has to show its will, and tell us when we will get our salary raised.”

Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree before the national election that would double the salaries of commune- and village-level officials effective from the start of this year.

Commune chiefs would thus see their salaries raised from $37.50 to $75 per month and their deputies would earn $60, up from $30.

But those salaries are still a far cry from what is being asked.

Low pay in the public sector is widely blamed for poor service and corruption.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said civil servants have no right to demand higher salaries as they surrender their rights once they work for the government.

“Civil servants are not factory workers,” Mr. Siphan said.

“They are contracted with the government, so they give up their rights to follow their own internal rules,” he said.

Civil servants are bound by the statute on civil servants, a code of ethics for government workers, and the criminal code, Mr. Siphan said.

“Public servants must obey their job [responsibilities], otherwise they are subject to a criminal case,” he said.

CITA president Rong Chhun said Thursday that teachers should continue their strike action, despite moves by the authorities to clamp down in the form of police questioning and attemps to make teachers sign anti-strike agreements.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)

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