Union Workers Gather to Demand Better Minimum Wage

Published on July 25, 2010
Garment workers gathered outside of the National Assembly

July 25, 2010 - "The wage must be at least equal to the guaranteed minimum wage; that is, it must ensure every worker of a decent standard of living compatible with human dignity" Article 104 of Cambodian Labor law.

On 8 July 2010, the government proposed to increase the current minimum wage from $50 to $55, with an additional $6 as a family allowance, the total of $61, to be implemented in October 2010 and renegotiated only in 2014. Unions and civil society have responded that this is not enough.

The current living standard of garment workers is very low. A recent 2009 study by the Community Legal Education Centre concluded that workers would require at the very least $72 per month to meet minimum requirements for food, lodging and medication. A suitable salary that would allow the most basic needs to be met, and is demanded by the unions, is estimated at $93 per month.

The global financial crisis has had a strong impact on the 340,000 workers employed in the garment industry, 85% of which are female migrant workers from the provinces. As their employment has became more precarious and other sources of family income dropped, they have been forced to cut back on the most basic needs that they are meant to satisfy with their small monthly income.

The Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) and the Cambodian National Confederation (CNC) organized a peaceful rally, originally planned in front of Wat Botum Park, on the morning of July 25, 2010. 10,000 workers were expected to gather in order to demand an increase to their minimum wage that would allow them to meet basic standards of living.

On the morning of July 25, hundreds of armed officers were deployed at the main roadways into Phnom Penh and at the designated rally sites. The area around Wat Botum was also sealed off by military police. From 6:30am to 8:45am, police stopped cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks carrying workers, who were left to stand on the side of the street. City officials claimed that the rally posed a threat to security, social order and public property. A ban on the rally issued by the Phnom Penh municipality and confirmed by the Ministry of Interior was only withdrawn at the last minute by authorities. Further, many factories declared forced overtime on that day, in order to prevent workers from joining the rally.

Struggling for a long walk

Carrying a bottle of water and a pack of food, workers walked for about 10 to 15 kilometers from the outskirts of Phnom Penh, where their transportation was blocked, to the rally site. Big groups broke up into small groups marching from the six main entrances to the city. It took the garment workers on average two hours to reach the meeting point. Between 3,500 and 4,500 union members were eventually able to gather in front of the National Assembly. Union leaders addressed the crowd as media, NGOs observers and over 100 police and military police officers looked on.
Garment workers resorted to walking into Phnom Penh after police stopped their transport on the outskirts of the city

Ath Thun leader of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Worker Democratic Union (CCAWDU) opened the rally calling for support from all the workers for a better minimum wage. The crowd voiced their appreciation with loud cheers and clapping, followed by the singing of two songs describing the difficulties of the daily life of workers. The songs were dedicated to all workers in Cambodia who struggle, in particular migrant workers from the country side who seek better paid jobs in the cities. All the activities were watched over by police and military police surrounding the gathering, as a constant reminder of the threat and intimidation that they posed.
�Unions and civil society condemned the attempted restrictions on the freedom of movement and assembly by police and military police officers. Authorities must respect the rights of workers who choose to assemble and express their opinions in a peaceful manner. Further, unions and civil society called on the Cambodian government to implement a transparent process to revise the minimum wage so as to meet minimum standards of living for all workers. Concern was also expressed for the safety of union leaders from negative repercussions linked to their active role during the rally.