PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The Cambodian government today revealed that next year’s monthly minimum wage for the country’s more than 700,000 garment workers will be raised to $153, a 9 percent increase from the current wage of $140 a month.
The increase comes after weeks of negotiation between manufacturers, government and union leaders — who respectively demanded the monthly wage be $147, $148 and $171. By the end of the day, the Labor Advisory Council — a governmental body composed of the three parties — decided that the government’s proposed amount of $148 would be the chosen wage, said Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng.
“The overwhelming majority of us [in the LAC] approved for $148, and then we reported to the government leader, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen,” Ith said. “He decided to provide $5 in addition to the $148 amount, so the minimum wage for 2017 is $153.”
He added that workers would continue to get an additional $7 for the transportation fee and $10 as a bonus if they attend work daily for a month.
The yearly minimum wage negotiations — including Prime Minister Hun Sen’s last-minute addition — are a familiar process for the country’s $6.2 billion apparel sector. While buyers and investors have maintained the importance of having a research-based mechanism for determining the monthly minimum wage, this is the third year in a row that the prime minister has inserted $5 more to the LAC’s decided amount with no explanation.
Nang Sothy, one of the manufacturers’ representative who sits on the LAC, said the employers’ side has come to expect Hun Sen’s add-on and had factored that in when proposing the employer’s amount. Nang does not know if the increase comes from any scientific basis or is just arbitrary.
“No, I have no idea. It’s his own decision for his own country. He can increase it by $5, by $10, by $20, by $30,” Nang said. “Traditionally though, each year, he always just adds on another $5….This is the decision of the leadership.”
William Conklin, the head of the Solidarity Center — a labor rights group affiliated with the AFL-CIO — said this “drawn-out” process is a familiar pattern that works against the unions’ favor.
“Unfortunately, the unions are losing out on this process to some degree. Because at the end of the day, the figure that comes out of this process is going to be much closer to the employers than the unions,” Conklin said. “At the end of the day, the government gets the figure it wants.”
But he added that the focus on the minimum wage itself is not the answer.
“What everybody needs to focus on is that this is the floor where unions and workers, through their factory representatives, are able to start bargain,” Conklin said. “This is where the work begins for the unions. It’s only the end of the beginning.”