Cambodian Garment Workers Copyright Getty Images AsiaPac

Trucks pick up workers from the provinces to work in the many garment factories in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Cambodia to Raise Wages for Garment Workers, but Unions Remain Unhappy

The Ministry of Labor said a $12 monthly pay rise had been agreed after a week of talks between union representatives, employers and government officials.

PHNOM PEHN, Cambodia -- Cambodia on Thursday said it will raise the minimum monthly wage for garment workers to $140, an increase of nearly 10%, which fell short of union demands in an industry beset by strikes and protests.  

The garment sector is a key source of export earnings for the impoverished country, but critics say workers in the multibillion dollar industry are underpaid and face poor conditions.

The Ministry of Labor said a $12 monthly pay rise had been agreed after a week of talks between union representatives, employers and government officials.

"The minimum wage for workers at textile and footwear industries for 2016 has been officially set at $140 per month," the statement said, up from $128 in 2015.

The kingdom's garment sector makes clothes and shoes for major western brands firms including GAP, Levi's, H&M, Puma and ZARA.

By January next year employees will earn 40% more than in 2014 after rounds of strikes and violent protests forced contractors to improve wages.

But unions want upwards of $150 a month for their members and expressed dismay at the settlement.

"It is very little help to the workers," said Ath Thorn of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Unions. 

"Workers should receive at least $150," he said, warning unions may still reject the offer.

About 700,000 workers provide the backbone of Cambodia's garment industry.

Safety worries are rife with periodic episodes of mass fainting by workers often blamed on poor health, poor working conditions, bad ventilation or exposure to dangerous chemicals.

Myanmar's nascent garment sector is worth nearly $850 million a year, well shy of Cambodia's annual $5 billion, but analysts say it may offer cheaper long-term wages and higher margins for textile firms.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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