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Garment workers faced with rising rent

Garment worker Khan Sophe sits in front of her home in Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao commune yesterday.
Garment worker Khan Sophe sits in front of her home in Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao commune yesterday. Hong Menea

Garment workers faced with rising rent

Even as Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly appealed to landlords this week not to raise rental costs for garment workers, tenants yesterday said they were again preparing for the commonplace price hikes that have accompanied minimum wage increases for years.

In 2015, the National Assembly passed the Rent Control Act with bipartisan support in an effort to stop the widespread practice among landlords and merchants of jacking up prices in worker-heavy neighbourhoods to coincide with wage increases. The legislation required that rental agreements be locked for at least two years, but workers say it has been repeatedly ignored.

In a speech to garment workers on Sunday, Hun Sen reminded workers that the government would raise the minimum wage to $170 a month this year, and asked landlords to give their tenants a one-year reprieve from rent increases.

But garment worker Khan Sophe said yesterday that almost every wage increase has been met with increases to the cost of living, and that she expected that to remain the case, with wage increases also being met by higher prices in the market and company layoffs.

“I worked for the factory for over 10 years, but I haven’t saved any money,” said Sophe, a worker at Gladpeer factory in Choam Chao commune.

“It used to be a good factory with 30 people per group, but they try to reduce some workers and increase workload” when wages go up, she continued.

Tum Sarom, a worker at Sky High factory who lives in the same barebones rental complex as Sophe, said the rent has increased every year since 2014, except for 2016 when the renters banded together and threatened to file a complaint to the village chief.

Despite this victory, the landlord raised the rent the next year.“It’s a political move,” Sarom said of the rent control law.

“It’s also because garment workers are a big part of the labour force across the country,” he added, explaining the government could have “problems” if the garment industry is displeased.

Nonetheless, Sarom said he thought Hun Sen’s admonishment might have a positive impact. Sophe, on the other hand, said the landlord’s reaction to Hun Sen’s order was not encouraging.

“She said, ‘It’s not the prime minister’s house, it’s my house,’” Sophe said.

Chheang Sreylis, who works for Bright Shoes and lives in another dormitory, said her landlord has continued to insist on a rent increase. “The landlord told me last week that they’ll increase the price when the new wage increases,” Sreylis said.

“The administrator at my factory told workers that in 2018 the rent will not increase, but I am not sure if that will affect my landlord, as he’s also a government official,” she added.

Village Chief Va Gnor confirmed that local officials have been ordered to watch out for rent hikes. However, he said, a complaint must be filed to warrant an inquiry.

“I won’t check each individual landlord,” he said.

“The government hasn’t really decided on a punishment [for rent hikes] yet, only to educate them and advise them.”

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