GARMENT workers' wages have dropped 18 percent in the year to May, according to figures released by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI).
The institute's latest report showed that daily earnings for garment workers were now just 6,100 riels (US$1.52), down from 7,500 riels ($1.88) last year.
Saing Chan Hang, an economics and business researcher at CDRI, said the statistics were compiled from interviews with 120 workers from different factories in Phnom Penh and the surrounding provinces.
"The decline in workers' incomes is the result of their working hours being cut from an average 59 hours per week in May last year to only 49 hours in May this year," he said.
Saing Chan Hang said the drop in income had a knock-on effect since workers had to cut the amount of money they could send to their families in the provinces. The amount remitted was down 6 percent between February and May 2009, CDRI's research showed.
In May this year, Van Sou Ieng, the president of the Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC), a trade body, said garment orders from abroad were down 30 percent.
The decline in workers' incomes is the result of their ... hours being cut.
Figures from the Ministry of Commerce's Trade Preferences Systems show garment exports fell 26.41 percent year-on-year across the first quarter of the year to $534.6 million.
Ath Thun, the president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, a group of unions, said the loss of orders had forced factories to cut the number of working hours available, and that had caused incomes to slide. He said the result was that workers spent less on basics such as food and health.
"Workers will face increased hardships in the future if the government remains unable to improve their wages and working conditions," he said.
Yim Seda, a worker at the PDC garment factory, said that when her previous employer shut the factory without paying its staff, her family had to send her money so she could stay in Phnom Penh and look for more work - a reversal of the normal cash flow.
"I would like the government to ensure that all factories deposit their capital with the National Bank of Cambodia so that if they shut down there is money to pay salaries," she said. "We have experienced this situation before."
Ing Kantha Phavy, the Minister of Women's Affairs, warned on Wednesday that workers suffering lower incomes are at greater risk of human traffickers. She said they could easily be cheated with promises of earnings five times greater than they earn in garment factories.
"I would like to see more studies done about the drop in worker incomes because [that knowledge] will make it easier for the government to under take effective responses," she said.