Cambodian garment workers’ monthly minimum wage nudged up to US$204

Cambodian garment workers will see their monthly minimum wage inch up US$4 to $204, but the workers and labor union officials said the bump up won’t be enough to offset rising living costs.
The 2 percent raise is about enough for a worker to buy breakfast and lunch at a Cambodian street stall. A typical month’s rent for a small apartment in the capital Phnom Penh starts at about $100.
The government’s 51-member Minimum Wage Council voted Thursday to lift the wage by just $2, but newly appointed Prime Minister Hun Manet added another US$2, bringing the total raise to $4, according to Labor Minister Heng Sour. The change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2024.
Still, the raise fell far short of what unions had asked for amid accelerating inflation. In August, they asked the Ministry of Labor to approve an increase to US$220, saying that rent, electricity and food costs have continued their COVID-19-era upward trend.
“It is not fair for the workers,” said Sok Sreyroth, a worker at Zhen Tai Garment Cambodia Ltd. in Phnom Penh. “More people will migrate back to the countryside because our economy is getting worse.” 
The garment sector employed 750,000 people in 2022 and makes up about one-third of Cambodia’s GDP. But more than 50,000 garment workers have been laid off over the last few years amid a downturn in the sector that began with the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Additionally, Cambodia has lost some of its preferential trade advantages with the European Union due to human rights concerns, which has meant higher tariffs on exports.
The government clearly sided with factory owners in its decision, said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.
But the ministry said that with benefits such as free meals and transportation and opportunities for overtime pay and bonuses, workers could earn between US$221 and US$232 per month next year.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Manet poses for pictures while attending an event to meet with garment workers on his first public appearance after taking office, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Aug. 29, 2023. Credit: Cindy Liu/Reuters

Like father
Hun Manet’s addition to the committee’s raise is something his father, Hun Sen, did on several occasions during his decades-long tenure as the country’s leader.
Last year, amid 5 percent inflation, the committee decided to raise the wage from US$194 to US$198. Then-Prime Minister Hun Sen then added another $2, making it an even US$200.
Phuong Ratha, a garment worker at Nyan Kids Cambodia Ltd. in Phnom Penh, noted that the 2024 increase is less than the US$6 increase workers received for 2023.
“We are disappointed because of the high inflation,” she told Radio Free Asia. “I wonder what happened?”
Hun Sen stepped down as Cambodia’s prime minister last month, officially handing the position to his eldest son on Aug. 22. The changeover followed a July election sweep by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which faced no serious competition in the national vote.
The minimum wage issue had been a main source of support for the opposition Candlelight Party, which attracted supporters in recent years with a policy platform centered around improving social welfare benefits. 
In May, the party was ruled ineligible for the election in a decision criticized as politically motivated. 
In late August – just a week after taking office – Hun Manet spoke to thousands of garment workers and promised a wage increase, although he didn’t mention a specific dollar amount.
Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.


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