With wage negotiations slated for later this month, the head of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia has warned that the country could lose hundreds of thousands of jobs if workers win their demand for a minimum wage of $207 per month.
The figure, derived from cost of living research by labor leaders, is much higher than the $128 now paid to workers, or even the $177 workers once said they needed.
Van Sou Ieng, GMAC president, told reporters Tuesday that wages that high will lead to the collapse of Cambodia’s garment industry. The $207 monthly minimum wage was made without clear, transparent research, he said.
“I want to let all the people and workers know that we have 300,000 people looking for jobs in Cambodia each year,” he said. “If any sector, such as the economic sector, can’t create jobs for our people, it will be truly difficult.”
A damaged manufacturing industry would mean more people forced to work abroad, in places like Thailand or Vietnam, where foreign workers “are treated badly,” he said. “If we don’t have jobs to do in Cambodia, be careful with the collapse of our economy.”
The manufacturing sector has taken 20 years to build, he said. “But can it survive?” He also faulted Cambodia’s union leaders for listening to “foreigners.” “They come and spend on research and come up with 207. Then they’ll say 230 tomorrow, and the next day, they will say 300.”
Labor leaders say they believe the $207 monthly minimum is an accurate reflection of the needs of workers, many of whom struggle to send money to their impoverished families and pay for basic housing and food. This has led to chronic malnutrition among workers, as well as mass faintings in factories. Such conditions led to widespread protests in late 2013, which only ended in a brutal government crackdown in January 2014, which left at least five people dead and many more injured.
Kong Atith, secretary-general of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said the $207 mark will be “on the table” for negotiations with manufacturers, but he said workers don’t want to see factories pack up and leave the country.
“Speaking on behalf of the workers, we do not want any employer to turn away from the country,” he said. “We want to discuss and to reach a consensus that is acceptable for both sides.” But he also warned that workers are willing to strike if employers do not raise the minimum wage to an acceptable level.
Heng Sour, a spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, told VOA Khmer that both sides need to come up with a figure that they can agree on, otherwise the ministry will not consider proposals. Representatives from both sides are scheduled for talks with the Labor Advisory Council Oct. 25.