By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – Cambodia’s approximately 700,000 garment workers are set to earn a $153 minimum wage per month starting next year, which the leader of the country’s largest union said was an unsatisfactory outcome from this year’s wage talks.
The country’s tripartite Labor Advisory Committee -- made up of representatives from unions, factories and the government’s Labor Ministry -- set the new wage with a vote Thursday.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central) told Anadolu Agency that there were 22 votes in favor of setting the wage at $148 -- the number put forth by the government.
“[Prime Minister] Hun Sen topped up by $5, so the new minimum wage is $153,” he said.
The current wage is $140. The garment sector is worth around $5.7 billion to Cambodia’s economy.
Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor did not return a request for comment.
A report issued this week by Central said workers felt “that on average a living wage should be $321 per month, earned during a standard work month consisting of 8 hours a day, 26 days per month” in order to meet the rising costs of living in Cambodia.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency after the wage announcement Thursday, Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, said he wasn’t happy with the outcome.
“We are not satisfied, because the proposal we put forward was $171. We have not yet discussed [the new wage] with out members.”
He said union discussions would be held after the Pchum Ben religious holiday, which will see the capital empty out over the next few days as people head home to spend it with their families around the country.
It remains to be seen if any discontent over the new wage will see workers down tools and stage protests like they did in 2013 and early 2014.
Those protests were fatally shut down by government forces, when five people were shot dead.
The introduction of the new wage also comes against the backdrop of Cambodia’s new Union Law, which was passed by the National Assembly in April, and which critics said would make it harder for unions to stage protests.
“I think it won’t be easy to strike, because the new… law affects human rights,” Thorn told Anadolu Agency. “Some unions, including me, are also under court supervision. Even though I’m not satisfied, I don’t have any feeling to do protests.”
William Conklin, Cambodia country director of the United States-based Solidarity Center, told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that the new wage “is a long way from what the unions wanted”.
“They just have to push for more collective bargaining,” he said. “That will be the best way. Obviously there are various actions -- unions have actions they can take that are just not outright strikes. We hope employers will understand this is the new floor, and that the wages will be built on this.”