GARMENT factory workers in Phnom Penh have claimed that a recent minimum wage increase has effectively made them poorer as landlords and transport providers have responded by raising their prices.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said yesterday that he had heard numerous reports from workers who claimed to be worse off since the new minimum wage came into effect on October 1.
“Most of the information I got from the workers, they all said their rent and also [the price of] their trucks [to work] also increased,” he said. “I think they did not reduce their poverty, they became poorer.”
He acknowledged that it was “hard to control” the rising cost of living, but said this was “one of the reasons unions said at the start [of negotiations] that a US$5 increase is not enough”.
The minimum wage – which was previously set at $50 plus a mandatory $6 cost-of-living allowance – was increased to a total of $61 per month.
Kong Kunthea, a 22-year-old garment worker living in Meanchey district, said her landlord had immediately raised her rent and had also begun charging more for water and electricity.
“The cost of renting [my] house before was $35, but from October it rose to $40 per month,” she said. “The landlords increased the prices because they know that the government increased the wage.”
She said she had needed to budget more carefully since the new minimum wage was introduced.
“I have to be more stingy than before with buying food and other things, even though I get more wages.”
Hort Synoun, a 30-year-old garment factory worker living in Russey Keo district, said she had received her first payment under the new minimum wage about a week ago and that it was not enough to cover her newly increased living costs.
“I am very happy to get the new wage, but I have to spend more than before I got it because the price of rent, food and other merchandise was raised,” she said. “I expected that my new wage will help me and my family to get more money … but it is so different from what I thought.”
Landlords and industry representatives, however, said rising living costs have not just affected garment workers.
One landlord, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he had been forced by his own rising living costs to raise the rent of the 10 rooms he rents to factory workers in Russey Keo district.
“I know they work hard and get a little wage, but I have no choice and I heard that other landowners also raised their renting costs,” he said.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said rent and transport prices were controlled by market forces, and that it was the prerogative of landowners and transport providers to set their prices.
“We know there is a rising cost of living, and that is why the minimum wage needed to be increased,” he said.
He noted, however, that the government had made an appeal to land owners and transport providers, asking that they not “overcharge” garment factory workers after the new minimum wage came into effect.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY BROOKE LEWIS