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Raise now or pay later?

Women work in a garment factory ironing material in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district
Women work in a garment factory ironing material in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in September. Pha Lina

Raise now or pay later?

Garment workers' minimum wage could be set to increase substantially in one hit next year or incrementally over the next five years, depending on a Ministry of Labour announcement due next week.

A ministry working group comprising officials, labour union representatives and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) yesterday outlined three different schemes that would raise the minimum monthly wage of employees in garment and shoe factories from $80 to $160 by 2018.

The ministry is scheduled next Thursday to announce whether it will approach the wage raise by adding $16 annually for five years, raising it each year based on factors including the economy and inflation or upping the minimum wage to $160 next year.

“We don’t demand [a minimum wage hike] for 2018, we want it for 2014,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union and working group member. Thorn had insisted upon an immediate raise to $154 per month, he said, because workers are struggling.

A study released by UK-based NGO Labour Behind the Label and local rights group Equitable Cambodia in September places the “living wage” in Cambodia at $150 per month.

A sudden wage hike would greatly improve the lives of workers, and paying it should not be a problem for factory owners, Dave Welsh, country director for labour-rights group Solidarity Center, said.

“Frankly, this is well within the means of all the stakeholders,” Welsh said.

But Ken Loo, secretary-general of GMAC, said being forced to suddenly pay workers $160 could devastate many factories. “What Ath Thorn wants is basically impossible,” he said. “Nobody would be able to do that.”

Up to 60 car-loads of workers plan on standing outside the ministry next Thursday to await the announcement, Thorn said.

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