As the nation continues to wait for official results from last month’s national election, the Cambodian People’s Party got on with governing yesterday, announcing that some 90,000 civil servants will receive a 40 per cent wage increase beginning on September 1.
In what some observers called an attempt to shore up support from those who voted in larger-than-expected numbers for the opposition, the Ministry of Economy and Finance announced that low-level civil servants including teachers, soldiers and police officers will be paid a minimum of $80 per month.
“The government has decided to increase the basic monthly salary for civil servants in categories C and D to 320,000 riel [$80],” a statement, which also appeared on the government news agency Agence Kampuchea Presse, says.
“Therefore, the current total minimum monthly salary, including the basic salary and other incentives, of [these] civil servants ... of [$61] will rise to [$86].”
Prime Minister Hun Sen signed the sub-decree on Tuesday after a conversation with villagers in Kandal province last week and a report from the ministry, the statement continues, which adds that more wage hikes will follow.
Before the election, the issue of wages featured in the rhetoric of both the ruling CPP and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Civil servants, many of whom make less than garment workers and are prevented from forming unions due to a law that contradicts the constitution, were particularly in the spotlight.
CNRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said yesterday that he welcomed the wage increase.
“But we would like the government to pay more. It’s not enough for them,” he said. “In our election policies, we wanted to increase it to at least $250 for civil servants.”
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association – and a vocal supporter of the CNRP – also welcomed the increase, but questioned the timing of the announcement from the Kingdom’s “caretaker” government.
“It’s good to see the raise, but it’s strange to deal with this issue during the transition between government [mandates],” he said.
The timing of the announcement may have been unusual, but it appeared to be within the rules, Cambodian Defenders Project director Sok Sam Oeun said. “I think it’s OK if the government has enough budget approved for this,” he said.
“The government has experience in political deadlocking in the past.... Last time, they kept the status quo. This time, the opposition has claimed they will increase salaries – [now] the ruling party will do the same thing.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, said the timing of the announcement was no coincidence, coming in the wake of a huge loss of support for the CPP at the polls, and amid threats of mass demonstrations if the CNRP is not awarded victory.
“I believe thousands of [civil] workers – including soldiers – voted for the CNRP,” he said. “The CPP understands that. The CNRP has called for a huge demonstration ... and the government is concerned they will participate.”
Tola added the ruling party’s huge loss of support – 22 seats, according to its own figures – had debunked the belief that everyone in the civil service voted for the CPP, even if they were members of the party.
“People are forced to join. If your boss is CPP, you have to join. If you object, they discriminate against you.”
Before the election, the CNRP promised to increase civil servants’ wages to a minimum of $250 if victorious.
The government announced a 20 per cent annual increase to civil servants last October, in the same month a government news agency claimed salaries in the public sector had increased on average by about 540 per cent since 2001.
According to opposition figures announced last year, civil servants, excluding soldiers, earned an average of $48 a month, along with small supplementary allowances and possible overtime.
One government official the Post spoke to yesterday said, on condition of anonymity, that the wage hike was “a positive move” by the government after a strong challenge from the CNRP.
“I hope there will be more,” he said.