The government originally said last week that the monthly minimum wage of $80 for garment workers — who make up Cambodia’s $5 billion garment industry — would be increased by $15 to $95 and implemented in April 2014. Workers and independent unions rejected this amount and called instead for a dramatic raise to $160.
The government’s concession Tuesday came after a week of nationwide demonstrations by more than 300,000 workers, causing a halt in the garment sector as manufacturers cited fears of damage to their factories.
The chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the country’s exporting factories, has said that $10 million to $15 million is lost each day the factories remain shuttered.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the association, said he feared such a concession would show the workers that continuous protests could get them what they want.
“We are surprised [by the announcement], but we have to comply because we are investors who must comply with the law,” Loo said. “I think it will make it worse.”
Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union — one of the unions that has been taking part in the protests — said $100 a month is still too low to meet the rising living costs of workers.
“The stance of our workers is that they are demanding $160. If we don’t get $160, we will continue to protest,” Athit said, promising that demonstrations will continue today.
Despite this apparent impasse, Dave Welsh, country head of the Solidarity Center — a labor rights organization affiliated with AFL-CIO — said the government’s concession is helpful to the negotiation process.
“The difference is sizable from what the unions and workers are demanding, but at least it shows that they [the government] are willing to negotiate,” he said.
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