Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Raises pending, prices soaring

Raises pending, prices soaring

Garment factory workers eat food near Asia Dragon factory in Takeo province last year
Garment factory workers eat food near Asia Dragon factory in Takeo province last year. Increases in pay for workers have regularly been accompanied by increases in the cost of food and lodging near factories. Pha Lina

Raises pending, prices soaring

Since Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng announced in late-December that the ministry would hike the minimum monthly wage for the garment sector to $100, Nuch Sdoeung has, at times, questioned if he could even afford beef.

“We do not yet earn a base wage of $100, but my landlord raised the price of my rental room by $5, and food prices have skyrocketed,” Sdoeung, a 35-year-old employee at SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd, said yesterday.

The wage boost from the prior minimum wage of $80 – which includes a $5 health bonus – went into effect on February 1, Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said in a text message yesterday. But garment workers will not be paid February’s wages until next month. In the interim, they endure the price escalation without enjoying pay gains.

The recent $20 minimum wage increase stands apart from previous raises in industry pay, due to the nationwide strike – which authorities violently quashed in early January – it sparked when union groups demanded $160. However, the problem of price gouging in areas where workers live once a pay increase is announced is longstanding, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“Just the way the industry is structured … rent and food around the factories are totally pegged to the minimum wage,” Welsh said. “It’s a huge, huge problem for most workers.”

Some garment factory employees have made painful adjustments to make ends meet.

The recent premature price hikes has forced Ouch Noeun, another SL employee, to work excessive overtime to make up the difference, Noeun said.

“Since the price of rent and food rises almost every day, we have to work harder,” Noeun said. “Sometimes we work 16-hour days so that we can each earn about $100 per month.”

Breaking the cycle of raising workers’ salaries, only for their cost of living to jump in direct proportion, may necessitate more creative solutions, Welsh said.

Before the strike came and went, Welsh said, discussions among labour NGOs, unions and other stakeholders were formulating a proposal that would push for food subsidies and rent freezes in areas near factories. But those involved are now more focused on issues related to the strike’s fallout, including freeing 21 detainees arrested at demonstrations and obtaining compensation for those injured and the families of at least four shot dead by authorities.

A group of international clothing brands are scheduled to meet with a deputy prime minister today, about a month after 30 brands and international unions sent a letter calling on the government to address several labour rights issues in the Kingdom. Topics on the agenda have not been disclosed.

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