PHNOM PENH —
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia says at least 15 factories have suspended workers, due to a lack of job orders, even as union leaders say they will demand a higher minimum wage.
Cambodia’s manufacturing industry is a major economic driver, providing jobs to some 600,000 people. But the sector has seen much unrest in recent years, with workers demanding higher wages to keep up with the increased cost of living. More wage negotiations are set for later this month.
Factories say the unrest and higher costs will drive away potential buyers. Ken Loo, GMAC secretary-general, said a few factories each year suspend workers, “but not this many.” Loo said a decline in orders was the main reason behind the suspensions.
“We have been worried about this since last year,” he said. “The unions did not believe us.”
Meanwhile, union leaders announced Monday they planned to negotiate for an even higher minimum wage than previously, thanks to new research on the cost of living. Unions had been pushing for a minimum monthly wage of $177, up from $128, but now they will seek $207 per month.
Garment workers buy food during a lunch break on national road #2 in Meanchey district, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Photo: Phorn Bopha/VOA Khmer)
Chheang Thida, a worker representative at Kin Tai Factory, which produces clothes for Armani, said roughly 500 workers have been suspended since July 15. “This is the first year the factory has suspended its workers,” she said. Factory leaders told workers the suspenions were not due to photographs on social media showing mass fainting by workers.
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said a high number of factories have suspended workers, especially for August, which should be peak season.
In the past, factories only suspended workers for reasons of poor management—not low orders, he said, adding that he worries the current suspensions could be a tactic by factories to counter demands for higher minimum wages. He called on buyers to “show the workers that they want factories to give a fair salary to workers.”
Va Kunthea, who researches factories for the education center, said she has seen an uptick in factory suspensions in recent weeks. But she said she has only spoken to about 5 percent of the total factories in the country, so she expects there are more suspensions than she knows about.
Pao Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said that workers still need a wage increase, regardless of the suspensions. “We cannot stay still,” he said.