Saturday, March 23, 2013

Cambodian hikes wages for garment workers

 By: AFP | March 23, 2013

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia has raised the minimum wage for its garment workers by 20 percent, following a series of strikes over pay and conditions, but union leaders said Friday it was not enough.

The monthly minimum wage for the hundreds of thousands of workers who make clothes for firms such as Levi Strauss of the US and Sweden's H&M will rise from $61 to $75, the government said. Workers will also be given an additional $5 a month for healthcare, according to a government announcement on state-run television late Thursday. The increase will take effect from May 1, it added.

Cambodia's garment sector, a key source of export earnings, has been hit by a series of strikes and high-profile media scandals over wages and working conditions in factories producing for top western brands.

Recent negotiations between factory owners and union leaders over pay and conditions had ended with no agreement earlier this week, prompting the government to intervene.

Trade union leaders said the 20 percent increase was insufficient and demanded $100 a month. "The increase is too small. It will not improve workers' livelihoods as inflation is high," Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, told AFP.

The outspoken trade unionist said he would organise a mass protest by workers if their demands are not met.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers' Association in Cambodia (GMAC), told AFP that employers would follow the government order.

The textile industry is a key source of foreign income for Cambodia and employs about 650,000 people, mostly women.

The country earned $4.6 billion from its garment exports last year but a series of strikes has pointed to festering discontent in the industry.

Protests by workers have also turned ugly. Three women were wounded when a gunman opened fire on protesters demanding better working conditions at factories in eastern Svay Rieng province in February last year.

Tension between staff and bosses also erupted in 2010 when tens of thousands of workers went on strike until the government stepped in and arranged talks with manufacturers.

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