Garment and footwear industry workers continue to struggle following the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training’s October 5 announcement of a $182 minimum wage for the industry next year.
The ministry said the Labour Advisory Committee – a tripartite body consisting of representatives from the ministry, trade unions and employer associations – voted for a new wage of between $177 and $182, with 26 of the 28 votes voting for $177. Prime Minister Hun Sen added $5 to the figure.
Kheum Nourn, 49, a six-year veteran at a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, which is owned by Taiwanese company Complete Honour Footwear Industrial (Cambodia) Co Ltd expressed little enthusiasm about the new minimum wage. She said she expected more.
“We were about to leave the factory for home – then I checked my Facebook and saw a $182 minimum wage set for next year. I am a little excited but not too much. It is just a $12 increase, which isn’t much."
“Workers like me always want more, we want like a $15 or $20 increase – I have no spare money because I need to pay for my three children’s school, bank loans and our food because my husband does not have a regular income. But what can we do? This is something [only] the government can help with,” said Nourn.
Nourn said she had been working in factories since 1999 and currently earns between $245 and $250 monthly with overtime. She said working conditions are getting harsher.
“Now at our workplace, it is very harsh and [the management is] very strict with us. If today they ask us to produce 500 pairs of footwear, tomorrow they want 550 or 600” she said.
Chea Sarath, 28, who has been working for a Phnom Penh factory since 2011, showed no excitement over the increase.
“It is below expectations. I am still not happy at all. I pay for a rented room, electricity and water. Every month I need to give my parents around $100. I usually get $230 per month – the rest I keep for myself and for my expenses,” said Sarath.
She said as a consequence of the minimum wage increase, the number of workers in each group had dropped from 50 to around 30, with no more assistance.
“If we don’t reach the quantity our supervisors demand, we may not get fired, but they will say hurtful things like ‘why can’t we be as productive as others?’ If I had a better opportunity, I would never work in a garment factory,” she said.
Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions president Yang Sophorn said the rise in the minimum wage for next year to $182 will not make the workers’ lives any better.
“They cannot live better because the [price of] goods keep increasing. They just take [their salaries] and spend it [all]. It is not like they can keep anything for themselves."
“So, even if we keep increasing [workers’ salaries], with the price of goods constantly increasing, it is still a problem for them. The government should closely examine this issue,” said Sophorn.