Garment worker Chhuon Ros, 44, has been living alone for the past four years in a rented room in Meanchey district. Her rent is $10 per month, but her landlord is considering an increase. Photograph: Hong Menea/Phnom Penh Post
Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun yesterday appealed to landlords with properties close to garment factories not to take advantage of the industry’s minimum wage increase by raising rent prices.
The minimum monthly salary in the garment sector – Cambodia’s biggest export industry – officially climbed from $61 to $75 this month, and Chhun said rent prices were already showing signs of following suit.
“Please do not raise prices too high,” he said in a statement. “It will affect the standard of living for workers who are only receiving a small increase.”
Some workers had been told their rent will increase by 15 per cent at the end of this month, Chhun said.
“Please, house and room owners, consider this seriously. Make sure it is acceptable.”
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, said he had heard similar stories from garment workers in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Speu.
“Some landlords have already increased their prices around factories,” he said, adding that the same thing happened when workers received $5 extra per month in 2010. “I think the new minimum wage increase won’t end up benefiting them.”
Private drivers – known to cram up to 70 workers into the backs of trucks “like animals” – were also prone to charging more after wage increases, Tola added.
“And inflation increases, so food vendors around factories also have to raise their prices.”
Chhuon Ros, 44, a garment worker in the capital’s Meanchey district, knows the difference a few extra dollars each month can make.
A small television, clothes and posters of Thai pop stars are among the few possessions she has in a tiny room that is barely 10 square metres in size.
Ros, who sleeps on the wooden floor because she doesn’t own a bed, pays $10 per month – and does not want to have to pay more.
“It’s not so comfortable living here. It’s hot and it’s small. But, whatever – I love it, because it is cheap,” she said during her lunch break yesterday.
“My salary will be raised from $61 to $80 [including a $5 health bonus]. I’m happy I can finally save some more money. Often I haven’t been able to save anything.”
Ros’s landlord, Sam Bunna, 34, rents five rooms to garment workers – ranging from $10 to $25 – and said she has not increased prices in seven years.
But that could soon change.
“I am considering increasing rent. If other owners do it, I will too,” she said.
You Meng Try, a representative of PCCS garment factory in Sen Sok district, said the government should protect workers from rent exploitation.
“Some owners increase their room prices as soon as they hear salaries are being raised,” he said.
CLEC’s Tola said big brands that sourced from Cambodia could play a major role in securing better living conditions.
“The accommodation should be convenient – and fit for human beings.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR