More than 70 workers from a Korean-owned massage centre in the tourist hub of Siem Reap protested in front of their workplace yesterday, demanding a basic wage of $177 per month and a $100 yearly health bonus.
Workers from the Alaska Massage Center have been on strike since Friday following their employer’s repeated refusal to increase wages, said Eang Kenghuy, a masseur and the head of the centre’s Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation (CFSWF) union chapter.
“The authorities asked workers to suspend our strike for a month to find a resolution. But we have not agreed because we have been asking our employer for higher wages and health bonuses since February, but we have had no results,” he said.
The workers appear to have chosen their $177 demand after independent garment unions pushed for the same figure as the sector’s minimum wage for the last two years.
Garment workers are the only employees in the Kingdom who have a set minimum wage, which was raised to $140 a month for 2016 from the current $128 rate.
Kenghuy said that the massage workers only make between $50 and $70 a month, which is not enough to live on given rising prices.
“Since we’ve started working here, we have have never received health bonuses and our wages are so low that we cannot support our living standards,” he said.
“The employer receives a lot of money from the clients, so they should think about workers’ living standards.”
However, the owners of the massage centre appear unrelenting.
Kim Timkyung, an interpreter for the owners, said the workers’ demands were “illegal” and contrary to the Labour Law.
“The demand to increase their basic wage to $177 per month is not right, because the Cambodian Labour Law states that workers who work for the service industry, especially in tourism, do not have a minimum wage,” he said.
“They don’t have any evidence or whatever to show us for their demands,” accusing the CFSWF of instigating the strike.
However, CFSWF president Sar Mora rejected the charge, saying the situation boiled over because of employers’ refusal to increase wages.
“The workers have the right to strike,” he said, adding that all workers have the right to demand a minimum wage.
“Up to now, we know that the government has set a basic wage only for the garment and footwear industry, but it does not mean workers from other industries do not have a right to demand their own basic wage.”
Mora said the workers would continue their protest until they received concessions.