A RECENT report that claims a liveable minimum wage for garment workers in Cambodia should be US$90 per month has been criticised by both trade unionists and employers.
The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), which represents about 250 garment factories, and the Free Trade Union (FTU), representing 80,000 garment workers in Cambodia, rejected the findings of the report released Wednesday by the Cambodia Institute of Development Study (CIDS).
The study of 353 workers in 47 factories around Phnom Penh showed garment workers could maintain a good standard of living providing they earned at least $90 per month.
The current minimum wage for a garment worker is $50 per month, although workers can earn up to $66 per month with bonuses and allowances, plus more for overtime.
Cheath Khemara, labour issue officer at GMAC, said Sunday the association could not accept the study because the research was based on garment workers' expenses and did not take into account the worker productivity needed to keep factories profitable.
"It's not a good thing that they wish to raise workers' wages while their productivity is still low," Cheath Khemara said.
"If our workers had high productivity to help factories earn more profit, factories would be able to increase their wages to a higher level."
He said the financial crisis and informal expenses were already of great concern to garment factories, and the push for higher wages would create an additional threat to the sector.
Chea Mony, president of FTU, said Sunday he did not agree with the findings because they did not align with real inflation.
"We would never consider that a $90 wage is a suitable living wage for workers, because they have to spend a lot on their healthcare, children, clothes and other things," Chea Mony said. "We don't reject the research statistics, but we hope CIDS can help garment workers ask for wage rise to align with their research study.
"I think garment workers could have a suitable standard of living as long as they could get more than $100 per month," Chea Mony said.
Tun Sophorn, National Coordinator for International Legal Organisation Cambodia, said Sunday that although the research conducted by CIDS showed what was needed for garment workers to have good living conditions, it was not easy for employers to increase salaries to the required level while they faced constraints from the economic crisis.
"I think it will be difficult for factories to meet workers' demands based on this research, but I hope that this suggestion can be met if the economic situation improves in the future," Tun Sophorn said.
We hope that if garment workers received $90 ... per month, they would be motivated to work harder.
The CIDS study, conducted with support from German NGO Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, showed basic expenses such as food, transportation, clothing, and healthcare for each worker was $72 per month, which included $57 for personal expenses and $15 for family.
However, a wage of $72 per month would not be sufficient as a livable wage, the report said.
CIDS Director Kang Chandararot said Sunday the research aimed to provide a clear picture of the situation for garment workers. Both unions and GMAC could use this in negotiating a suitable wage for workers, he added.
"Our main purpose is to contribute to the sustainable development of the garment sector in order to compete with other countries in the future," Kang Chandararot said. "We hope that if garment workers received $90 in wages per month, they would be motivated to work harder to increase their productivity and may not think of going on strike."
He said some factories were currently having difficulty finding workers because they offered low wages.
Last week, four large federations representing 80 percent of garment workers in the country demanded employers and the government pay wages of $93 per month.
The Committee for Fair Wages said Wednesday that a wage of $50 a month was insufficient.
PULS Trading Far East Limited, a company that represents major international clothing brands in Cambodia including Adidas, Mike, Levi's and Gap, said it hoped that the government would persist with the exisiting wage structure while the economic crisis was hurting the garment industry. It added that it would, however, comply with a change should an updated wage law come into force.