Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Garment Worker Unions and Employers at a Standstill on 2024 Minimum Wage

Garment workers campaign for a $215 monthly minimum wage at a Hi-Tech factory in the city of Poipet. (Supplied)
Garment workers campaign for a $215 monthly minimum wage at a Hi-Tech factory in the city of Poipet. (Supplied)

No new agreement was made between garment worker unions and employers at a Monday meeting, with employers maintaining their stance from September 4 that they will only increase the monthly minimum wage by $1. In the last week, garment workers held signs outside of factories and posted on social media to campaign for a $15 increase. 

“The state has an obligation to guarantee a decent living wage with dignity for workers! ” read the handwritten cardboard sign of one worker at a Hi-Tech factory in Poipet.

The Monday meeting of the National Minimum Wage Council was the 15th negotiation session regarding the minimum wage, according to a Labour Ministry release.

 “Workers’ representatives continued to maintain a figure of $215 and employers’ representatives continued to maintain a figure of $201, ” the report states. The current minimum wage is $200.

Nang Sothy, vice president of the Cambodian Federation of Employers and Business Associations, told CamboJA that the employers would have added another five cents to their offer if the union representatives had lowered their request at all. 

“The first time we added $1, and today we were ready to raise the offer another five cents and officially announce that, but because the union members did not offer new figures, ” the figures from both sides stayed the same, Sothy said Monday.

Keo Channet, a garment worker at the Poipet Hi-Tech factory, said she started campaigning on Friday along with 500 other union members, demanding better wages of at least $215 monthly by 2024. 

“We just want to demand a salary of $215 to make our lives better. It will not improve our lives that much​, but will just give some relief to workers,” she said. 

With her current salary of $200 a month, she has been eating less to reduce her food costs. She has a bank loan she took out to pay for daily expenses, and without cutting back on her food spending, she wouldn’t be able to make her loan payments. 

“Before, I used to send money to my children, around 150,000 or 200,000 riels a month, but now, I do not have money to send them even 50,000 riels,” she said.

Realistically, she said she has no hope of getting the full $15 wage increase, but wishes the government would consider taking action to reduce the price of goods. With current wages in the country, she said the cost of goods is unbearable.

A garment worker holds a handmade sign at the factory she works at in Poipet, part of a broader movement of factory workers across the country campaigning for a $15 increase to the monthly minimum wage. (Supplied)

Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said there would not be these negotiations or discussions over wage increases if the government was able to guarantee and control market inflation.  

” Every day, the market inflation is so high that it makes our workers, average people, live in difficult conditions and without enough money left over to save, ” she said. “I think it will help a lot to the workers and citizens in our society, workers will be happy, if the government looks into controlling market inflation. “

Garment workers are facing major difficulties with the current low wages, she said, often spending more than they earn and unable to pay for treatment when they get sick.

Phan Bory, founder and leader of the Worker Rights Protection Union at Y&W Garment company, said he could not accept the employers’ offer of only a $1 increase.

“The current wage is just for living, it does not improve life,” he said.  “Employers seem to not provide value to workers at all. “

Even if the demand for $215 is not met, he said the minimum wage should at least be $210 to improve the lives of workers, most of whom owe money on bank loans. He hopes the new government will provide for the needs of workers by keeping the price of goods the same as before the election, noting the recent increase in prices for gasoline and rice.

The next National Minimum Wage Council meeting is scheduled for September 18, with a collective goal of completing negotiations by September 28.