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‘Only paying lip service’

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday accused the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party of hypocrisy, claiming that although the CNRP has pushed garment workers to strike for no less than a $160 minimum wage, party leaders pay their own bodyguards, drivers and cooks half that.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy rejected the accusation, saying that while only “allowances” were given to guards and drivers – for whom he claimed accommodation, food and medical care was provided – any full-time CNRP employee living at home was paid at least $160 a month.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, however, said all bodyguards and drivers were volunteers, picking up only $5 a day to spend on food when on trips to the provinces and living at their own homes when in Phnom Penh.

Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the National Institute of Education yesterday morning, Hun Sen reiterated that the nation could not afford a minimum wage of $160 a month.

Without naming the CNRP or Rainsy directly, he added that “those” who have promised $160 are not practising what they preach.

“They only just raised [their own employees’ pay] to $80. This is not in line with the demand of $160. The people who live with them get only $80, his bodyguards and drivers get just $80, and his cooks are in a more difficult situation,” he said.

“They are paid 250,000 riel [$62] per month. So they did not agree to live with him and they went home, so now he needs more [cooks] … as far as I heard.

“Before promising $160, why doesn’t he pay people around him [this much]?”

Rainsy yesterday said he found it “amusing” that the premier “pretends to know the salaries of all the employees in my party and in my household”.

“Actually, he got it wrong, because the minimum salary of anybody working in the party or my household is $160,” he said. He then clarified that this wage applied only to full-time workers who lived at home and were not provided food, accommodation or healthcare by the party.

Rainsy could not provide the numbers of workers who fell into each category, but said anybody “who comes on a regular basis and works every day, eight hours a day, like a worker” was paid $160.

His guards and bodyguards mostly fell outside of this category, he admitted, but were provided with “pocket money” and mainly lived on party premises.

When asked how these employees could support families without a set monthly “living wage”, he said that “most of them, I think all of those on a permanent basis, they don’t have families … [Or] some who are married, they don’t come to work on a regular basis”.

“I know also some of my bodyguards do other jobs; they moonlight as tuk-tuk drivers, for example.”

Long Ry, chief of CNRP security, said bodyguards and drivers employed by the party receive more than $80 a month when per diems and donations from opposition party supporters were taken into account.

Chao Tol, a deputy commander at the prime minister’s elite personal bodyguard unit, said he could not divulge how much Hun Sen’s own guards were paid.

Kong Athit, vice-president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said that while the CNRP should, in principle, pay all its employees $160, it could not be compared to something like the profit-making garment sector.

“Political parties are things to propose policies for the future of the country … not a place to make money. If the CNRP has money and they don’t pay their technical staff, they should consider this,” he said.

“But if they don’t have money, they have to [work with] the reality.… It cannot be compared to the garment sector, which is a business.”

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