Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Unions want minimum wage increase for garment workers

Garment workers converging for their lunch in front of a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, January 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Garment workers converging for their lunch in front of a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, January 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Unions representing Cambodian garment workers say they would like to see an increase in the minimum wage next year, but that companies are hesitant due to the unstable global economy, mainly a result of the war in Ukraine.

Unions, companies, and officials from the Ministry of Labor met for a first round of talks at the Ministry’s National Council on Minimum Wage on Monday.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, one of the country’s biggest independent unions, attended the meeting. He said that the union still has to hold an internal meeting to discuss an official figure for 2023, but that he hoped to see an increase of around $20.

 “We have yet to discuss the detailed figure. This morning I just listened to the presentation [of the overall situation] by the ministry,” Mr. Thorn said.

However he said he thought a monthly minimum wage of about $215 in 2023 would be appropriate. Currently the minimum wage in the industry is $194.

He noted that employers were worried about increasing wages, despite garment workers’ increased living costs.

Nang Sothy, an employer representative, was among those against an increase.

“The minimum wage should not be raised,” Mr. Sothy said, noting that the government’s social security pension fund that starts being implemented in October is already a burden on employers.

Current geopolitical tensions and high oil prices were another reason to avoid an increase, he said.

Over the past two years, garment and footwear factories have not increased the minimum wage, but the government ordered an increase of $2 last year.

“Our stance is that we do not want [wages to be] higher than in Vietnam,” Mr Sothy said. Garment workers there make up to $202 a month.

Kaing Monika, deputy secretary-general at the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, could not be reached for comment.

Heng Sour, a spokesman at the Labor Ministry, declined to comment, referring reporters to the ministry’s statement instead. The statement says

the ministry has seven criteria for negotiations on minimum wage for the garment and footwear industry in 2023.

It said that the next meeting will be held from August 24-31.

Pak Ram, 26, a worker at Y&W Garment factory in Phnom Penh, said he supports a negotiated minimum wage for workers because the current wage of $194 is not enough to live on.

“The current salary is not enough for daily expenses because the wage is very small,” he said. “I would need at least $220 to survive, and be able to pay my rent and electricity.”