Prime Minister Hun Sen said yesterday that the government would scrap its recently announced policy to offer civil servants yearly 20 per cent raises in favour of a system in which raises were tied to economic growth – a scheme he said could also apply to workers in the private sector.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh, the premier said the new policy – which would take effect next year – would offer a path to sensible wage increases, unlike past promises by the opposition to increase the salaries of those drawing a government paycheck to a minimum of $250 a month, and garment workers to $150 a month.
“[We] will use language about increasing the salaries for civil servants and the armed forces according to economic growth,” Hun Sen said, without offering details as to how raises would be calculated.
In October, the government announced it would boost civil servant raises to 20 per cent year on year for the next five to 10 years.
Hun Sen also accused opposition economists of trying to spend money the country didn’t have on their own wage schemes.
“If we have not yet caught fish . . . [and] don’t even see fish raising their heads above the surface of the water, we can’t start thinking about which fish has to be grilled, and which fish has to be fried, and which fish has to be boiled,” he added.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Son Chhay, however, said Hun Sen had resorted to “chasing the opposition parties’ policies” and maintaining that the opposition had found ways to collect the estimated $300 million dollars needed annually to fund their proposed pay raises.
“Our study was based on corruption and the revenues that any government can collect,” he said, referencing a past US government statement that the Cambodian government loses $500 million dollars to corruption every year.
“One [problem] is that there are so many ghost people on the payroll,” Chhay added, noting that the problem was particularly bad in the military. “If the government were to delete all these ghost soldiers out of the payroll, we . . . would not need to wait for the economy to grow 7 per cent.”
Increasing salaries each year, even by 20 per cent, he said, would still fail to bring civil servants up to a living wage.
“Some teachers only receive about $30 [per month]. If you talk about 20 per cent of that, then you only pay them [another] $6 or $7 a month,” Chhay said. “To get up to $100 a month, it would take like 20 years. That’s ridiculous.”
As for raises for private-sector workers, said Dave Welsh, country manager for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, only garment workers currently enjoy a minimum wage, a precursor to any talk of regular raises.
“In the garment sector, again, it’s positive to an extent, but . . . it’s also necessary to address other industries that are booming, like construction,” he said, adding that the minimum wage issue would likely come up during election season.