After months of job losses and factory closures within Cambodia’s struggling garment sector, the industry is experiencing a surge in job openings; but the sector is also facing a new problem: a shortage of workers.
Chhoun Mom Thol, president of the Cambodian Union Federation, said that his organization’s records show that approximately 10,000 garment jobs have been created in recent months. However, only about 100 of those job vacancies have been filled so far, he said.
“Jobs are becoming available. I create so many [job] announcements, but I did not see so many workers come looking [for jobs],” Mr Mom Thol said.
“The reason is the salary. You see, the living costs are really high at the moment…. Workers prefer to do farming and planting rice,” he said. “They don’t want to come to the garment sector.”
Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said last week that approximately 30,000 garment workers lost their jobs in the first half of this year due to 69 factories shutting down. However, 26 factories have opened, creating jobs for a further 10,000 people, he said, confirming estimates made by the Cambodian Union Federation.
“Twenty-six factories still need more garment workers,” Mr Mean said.
“Some workers have changed their jobs or gone back to their homeland to help their parents on the farmland,” he said.
In a survey conducted by the Cambodia Institute for Development Study in February, garment factory workers were found to need a minimum of $90 a month to survive in Phnom Penh.
However, findings from the survey, entitled the “Living Wage Survey for Cambodia’s Garment Industry”, show that the average income for garment workers, excluding overtime, was $67 per month. With overtime this figure reached only $79. The workers were found to spend a total of $72 per month. Of that figure, $57 went on their “personal basic needs” and $15 on financial commitments to the households.
“The $57 per month [about $1.84 per day] is far below the NIS [National Institute of Statistics] figure for the average person living in Phnom Penh, which is $3 per day,” the survey stated.
Ny You, communications officer at the International Labor Organization in Phnom Penh, said that he had noticed an increase in the number of factories opening in the last few months, which he credited to a shift in the garment sectors thinking.
“We see that the industry is trying to expand the market to other destinations rather than heavily depending on America,” he said, adding that so far this year the ILO has registered eight factories with its Better Factories project.
Mr You said that part of the reason why workers were not jumping at the prospect of employment inside the garment sector was partly due to a perceived lack of advancement opportunities.
“Cambodians need to be shown that there are prospects within the industry to become line managers for example,” he said. “But sometimes they don’t know about it.”
Mr You said that despite the downturn in the garment sector, it would still continue to absorb a large segment of the labor force. In September 2008, there were a recorded 350,000 workers employed in garment factories.
Garment worker salaries, Mr You added, depend greatly on the ability of Cambodian garment manufacturers to compete regionally, a task that is currently made difficult due to infrastructure, particularly high electricity prices and poor road networks for transporting goods.
Albert Tan, treasurer at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he thought that the number of job losses in the garment sector was still rising at a quicker rate than jobs being created.
The recession in the United States – where Cambodia garment factories currently send 85 percent of their exports – is still affecting the industry, Mr Tan said.
(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)