Labor Ministry Ignored Its Own Research on Minimum Wage

The Labor Ministry on Tuesday defended its failure to act on the results of its own study, which in November found that the minimum livable wage for garment factory workers is between $157 and $177.

In its annual report, the ministry listed its wage study, carried out in conjunction with labor unions from both sides of the political divide, as its top achievement of 2013, despite the fact that it ignored the results and raised the minimum wage to just $95, since revised to $100 after mass strikes in December.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said Tuesday that with plenty of extra hours worked in factories, workers could earn the wage they had demanded.

“The workers, most of them, they do get the $160 they have been demanding,” Mr. Suor said.

“They are allowed to work overtime and they also get other bonuses that give them enough money to live and also enough money to save and send to their families,” he said, referring to the country’s more than 400,000 garment factory workers.

Jill Tucker, chief technical advisor for the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Better Factories program, said Tuesday that Mr. Suor and the ministry were distorting the definition of “minimum wage.”

“The minimum wage is not supposed to represent the total wage a worker earns, it is supposed to be the wage a worker earns from working the basic 48-hour week,” Ms. Tucker said.

Mr. Suor also said that the Labor Advisory Council had decided that the basic monthly wage of $95 introduced in December (which will hit $100 at month’s end) is sufficient.

“The Labor Advisory Council has found that workers’ expenditure is only about $95 per month if they don’t save any money,” Mr. Suor said.

“So the unions should stop complaining because the decision has been made at $100 and anything over that is just extra money that [workers] can send to their families.”

Chheng Lang, vice president of the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions in Cambodia, said that while some garment factory staff were taking home $160 per month, it was a grueling slog to do so.

With overtime calculated at around $0.72 per hour (1.5 times the base hourly rate of $0.48), employees would need to work about 80 extra hours each month on top of their current 192 hours per month, and also receive a transport allowance and perfect attendance bonus in order to collect $160 on pay day.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Center of International Labor Solidarity, said the ministry’s position on the minimum wage were a reflection of the attitudes of employers and business owners toward their staff.

“It speaks to the fact that minimum wage discussions are not based on how many hours an individual should work for a fair wage but how many hours it is possible to get out of a worker without raising the wage,” Mr. Welsh said.

“We cannot say we have forced labor in Cambodia but frankly, given the pay rates, these people are basically forced to work.”

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