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Familiar wage figure floated by minister

A garment factory worker holds a placard during a protest in 2013, calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $160.
A garment factory worker holds a placard during a protest in 2013, calling for the minimum wage to be raised to $160. Vireak Mai

Familiar wage figure floated by minister

In the midst of annual minimum wage negotiations, Minister of Labour Ith Samheng used a visit from members of the Southeast Asian Youth Programme to reiterate that the minimum wage for garment workers would reach at least $160 a month by 2018, state media reported.

The ministry is currently holding meetings with unions and employer representatives to determine the minimum wage for 2017. The goal of $160 by 2018 is in line with a government proposal in late 2013 that would have seen the minimum wage rise incrementally each year. But the plan was never adopted, and some unions argue the numbers should be tied to the cost of living.

“I don’t care what amount the government announces, if prices go down, then maybe $160 would be alright, but if prices go up, then it won’t be enough,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. “I think the government and companies need to think about how the workers are surviving.”

William Conklin, of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said incremental increases could be a good idea, but only if the starting point is high enough to meet living expenses.

“Minimum wage has been kept very low for several years, so now they have to make up for lost time,” Conklin said, adding that increasing the baseline would also serve to limit unions’ negotiating space.

The Ministry of Labour could not be reached yesterday.

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