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Despite displeasure, no strikes over wage

Employees leave a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district last Thursday after the decision was made to set the 2017 garment industry minimum wage at $153.
Employees leave a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district last Thursday after the decision was made to set the 2017 garment industry minimum wage at $153. Pha Lina

Despite displeasure, no strikes over wage

A week after the government set next year’s garment sector minimum wage at $153, independent unions yesterday said they would likely not be taking to the streets to demand a higher wage, despite a majority of their members opposing the figure.

The independent unions last week expressed disappointment at the $13 increase, saying it was far below the $171 minimum monthly salary they were hoping to secure for 2016, but said they would leave it to their workers to decide if the wage was satisfactory or not.

Ath Thorn, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said close to 70 percent of his members were unhappy with the figure but that there was a sense of helplessness.

“They said ‘we have to make do with this – we have no choice’,” he said. “They are also scared the trade union law will be used [against them].”

Instead, Thorn said he would engage the government to ask that food and electricity prices were kept down, rents kept in check and that workers be made entitled to more “incentives” on top of their salary.

“We realize that the minimum wage will not increase and this is all we can do,” he said.

Yang Sophorn, head of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said her workers expressed a similar displeasure at the wage, saying that even though unions lowered their initial demands from $179, the final figure ended up nowhere close to their request.

“The workers will accept because they have no choice,” Sophorn said. “If they had the chance to freely express themselves, they would have protested, but they don’t.”

An informal survey of garment workers in the capital’s Russey Keo district yesterday revealed disappointment at the $13 increase over this year’s $140, with most citing rising housing, food and personal costs as the reason.

“The price of everything is always increasing and never comes down. But our salary is increasing by only $10, so I don’t know how to manage,” said Chan Neary, who asked that the name of her factory not be revealed.

Eager to protest the new wage, Sim Pheak said she sensed a reluctance to do so from the unions. “Until now no unions have announced [protests],” Pheak said. “It seems all the unions have accepted it.”

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