PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodia’s garment workers will renew their campaign for a monthly wage of $177 next month, when talks start for a new minimum wage, labor leaders said yesterday.
The demand for a 38 percent hike from the minimum monthly of $128, which came into effect in January, is not tied to productivity increases. Instead, Ath Thorn, head of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, says unions will base demands on research that indicated workers need between $150 and $177 to remain above the poverty line in Phnom Penh. His union confederation will also push for the minimum wage to apply to other sectors.
This year, they will negotiate with government officials keen to win garment worker support in the 2017 elections. Labor Ministry officials have met with workers from industries in what some call a “charm offensive.”
At the same time, global brands that buy garments from Cambodia are facing increased pressure to do more to protect the welfare of workers in poor countries.
The head of UN’s Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Cambodia welcomes this trend. “In Cambodia, as elsewhere, the businesses that have accepted their human rights responsibilities throughout their supply chains have unfortunately been the exception rather than the rule,” said Wan-Hea Lee, the OHCHR Representative.
Last week, the G7 Group of Industrialized Nations pushed for better compliance of labor rights in multinational supply chains.
Global Brands Weigh In
Global Brand H&M told Khmer Times they are prepared to pay more for clothing from Cambodia so that workers here receive living wages.
“We take a positive view of wage increases,” said Anna Eriksson, a spokesperson for the Swedish brand. “We want suppliers to pay their textile workers a fair living wage, and we are prepared to pay the prices so the supplier can do so.”
Representatives for Levis and Adidas echoed this view.
“Levi Strauss & Co is firmly committed to sourcing in Cambodia and has a strong history of supporting workers’ rights and economic development in the apparel industry,” a company spokesman told Khmer Times by email. “We’re invested in Cambodia’s future.”
Adidas said that Cambodia became the country’s second-largest production hub last year. It increased its Cambodia purchases to 16 percent of its global total, from 12 percent in 2013.
“Adidas Group is committed to our suppliers and to the long term success of Cambodia, which is and remains a key sourcing country for the Adidas,” Silvia Raccagni, a spokesperson for the group, said by email.
Government and Business Cautious
But business leaders and government officials are cautious. They note that after the global financial crisis in 2008, buyers pulled orders from Cambodia and increased them in Bangladesh where wages, and production costs, are lower.
Ith Samheng, Minister of Labor and Vocational Training, told yesterday’s conference that productivity, profitability of employers, inflation and regional comparisons have to be taken into account to calculate a minimum wage.
The government, he said, worries about losing business from international manufacturing companies who go after the cheapest labor they can find. Other countries in the region have lower minimum wages he said.
“We want factories to stay in Cambodia, to provide jobs to our workers. If we increase wages too much, it will result in losses for us.”
Tough Talks and Competition
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers in Cambodia (GMAC), has argued that wage hikes should be tied to productivity hikes.
He said productivity in Cambodia was about half the level it was in China. The country has to compete with Vietnam, Bangladesh and Myanmar as well, he said.
Negotiations for a new minimum wage are expected to continue until the end of the year, union leaders said.