Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday indicated that the garment sector’s minimum wage could reach $250 in the next five years, up from the current level of $170, with a prominent unionist dismissing the projected increase as insufficient to meet workers’ living costs.
Speaking to workers in Por Sen Chey district, the premier said the Cambodian People’s Party had calculated a target minimum wage for 2023, but refused to divulge the estimation.
“I request to not give the exact number, and give the possibility to the annual minimum wage negotiations to decide the wage,” he said.
For the past four years, the minimum wage has been decided following tripartite negotiations involving members from the government, unions and employers. In October, the wage was increased from $153 to $170, including a customary $5 bump mandated by Hun Sen himself.
On Wednesday, the premier referred to unspecified “economic experts”, who had pegged the 2023 wage at $250, saying the government would look to get to this number, or more, in an incremental fashion.
“So we have to set an incremental, step-by-step program, and the actual wage may be even more than that, but we also have to think about the competition in the region,” he said.
The premier added that since wages were going to increase, workers should also help to “defend the peace” to ensure economic and job stability.
However, Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions leader Yang Sophorn said the dangling of a higher minimum wage number by the premier was linked to the July 29 national elections.
Additionally, she said that Hun Sen was in charge of the government, which held half of the tripartite group members, and could therefore easily push the wage higher if he chose.
“Actually the prime minister is the top man in power in Cambodia. The prime minister has powers to influence the wage, so he is able to add more [to the] wage,” Sophorn said.
The potential wage raise was rejected by garment worker Sat Sophy, from Por Sen Chey, who said workers were barely making ends meet with the current wage levels.
“It is not acceptable that for the next five years the wage increases just $80, especially when the government can’t prevent market price increases,” Sophy said, adding that wage increases were nullified by increases in rent and other living costs.
Ken Loo, spokesman for the employer representative Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, would only say that the wage would be determined through the tripartite negotiations, but that the government likely had a target in mind.
Bent Gehrt, who is the Southeast Asia field director for the Worker’s Right Consortium, said that while it was encouraging the government was open to wage increases, recent experiences have shown the increases can be more than expected.
“Thus there is still room for negotiation beyond this figure, and there is precedence for this as in the end of 2013, the [Labour Advisory Committee] agreed to an increase to $160 by 2018, but that did not prevent further negotiations in the following years,” he said, referring to the tripartite mechanism.