Garment Workers Say Minimum Wage Increase Still Not High Enough

Saing Sok Kan, 37, struggles to provide for her family on a $50 monthly salary from Tack Fat Garment factory in Phnom Penh. She worries that this situation will not change when a newly approved minimum wage rise takes effect in October.

“I am happy about the increase, but it is not enough to cover my daily expenses, including food, rent, electricity and water utility bills, and my children’s school fees,” Ms Sok Kan said, standing near her factory gate during a lunch break yesterday.

Her monthly wage is due to rise following a Labor Advisory Committee announcement last week the $50 minimum wage is set to rise by $5. An existing $6 cost-of-living allowance will be also incorporated into that figure.

However, $61 will still not cover Ms Sok Kan’s family budget, which includes $1.75 per day for food and $30 monthly rent, plus medical costs and money set aside to support her aging parents.

“I want around $90…. If I cannot get this amount, I would need $70. I think the government can provide this if they consider it,” Ms Sok Kan said.

During a meeting last week, 20 out of 25 members of the Labor Advisory Committee voted for the $11 minimum wage increase, which was recommended by the government in June.

Other garment workers interviewed in Meanchey district yesterday said that they had heard rumors regarding a salary increase but did not know if it would actually take effect.

Outside Supertex factory, Leng Sokha, 27, said that she had heard about the raise from co-workers.

“I think that the basic salary should be $80, and I could gain more if I worked overtime,” Ms Sokha said, noting that including overtime pay she currently earns $70 per month.

Ms Sokha said that she worked at a garment factory to provide for her parents in Takeo province, whom she sends $20 per month.

“I came to work in a garment factory to lessen the burden on my family,” she said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that raising the minimum wage to a figure such as $70 would be the equivalent of “suicide” for the industry.

“It would bring the cost of garment factories out of proportion…investors would not longer be able to do business,” Mr Loo said.

The minimum wage should sustain individual workers, but is not responsible for ensuring they have money to send to dependent family members, Mr Loo said.

“[The minimum wage] provides enough nutrients to survive but it doesn’t mean you won’t feel hungry,” he added.

The Free Trade Union issued a statement yesterday saying that it would accept the $11 increase, although it had announced in May that it would strike this week if the minimum wage was not raised by at least $20. FTU president Chea Mony on Sunday said he would indefinitely postpone the strike.

Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, which had campaigned for a minimum wage hike of $43, said that the recent increase is not large enough to satisfy workers, who require a $75 basic salary.

“If [no union leaders] dare to protest, the garment workers themselves will protest,” Mr Thon said.

Kang Chandarot, the director of the Cambodian Institute of Development Study, said he welcomed negotiations rather than demonstrations over the minimum wage.

“We are halfway to getting what we want…workers should get $72 to $75 in basic expenses for those they live with and dependents,” Mr Chandarot said.

However, Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser to the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories program, said that $61 was a sufficient minimum wage for garment workers, especially when augmented by bonuses and overtime pay. With those extra payments, he said, workers often take home $90 or $100 per month, a reasonable amount to live on in Phnom Penh.

“Overall the $11 increase is going in the right direction,” he added.


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