Cambodia is one of the countries with the lowest minimum wages in the world. Although the Cambodian Labor Code does not specify intervals for revision of minimum wage rates, in practice the minimum wage for the garment industry has been updated every three or four years. As it stands, regular Cambodian workers receive around USD 61/month, whereas probationary workers receive USD 56/month, which will be valid until 2014. The government believes that this amount is sufficient for workers to have a decent life.
However, despite the fact that the garment industry in Cambodia represents 90% off all exports, under the current wage rates a quarter of the population is still living below poverty line. Additionally, mass fainting incidents have become very common across the nation, which the government claims are related to health and safety issues and a high workload. On the other hand, unions point to low wages as mostly the root cause of the incidents, often leading workers to conduct excessive overtime to make ends meet. Naturally, long-hours of work, lack of rest and malnutrition make workers even more fragile, yet being sick is not an option because this might mean the loss of one’s attendance allowance.
Strikes and events have been held to raise concern and awareness about the situation of workers in the Cambodian garment industry. Based on social audits conducted by UL RS in Cambodia during 2011-2012, excessive overtime hours and lack of seventh-day rest are the top violations noted - this would indicate a correlation with the situation claimed by union above.
Furthermore, occupational health and safety violations also play a significant role in impacting workers’ health conditions. A number of global brands have been taking part in addressing this issue, such as Adidas, Puma, H&M and Gap and have expressed their concern related to workers’ labor conditions in garment factories. H&M plans to carry out some research into the ‘fair wage concept’ approaches, while Adidas believes that wages in their own supply chain should meet basic needs and also provide for reasonable savings and expenditure. With an increase in consumer awareness and responsible sourcing, international clothing brands are pressed to invest in and improve garment workers’ working conditions in Cambodia.
In the meantime, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has stated that there should be no discussions on raising the minimum wage until 2014 while three workers unions continue to press the government to do so. As it stands, the government has not issued any response to the latest living wage demand – which many consider a state duty. The UL RS team will keep a close eye on any developments in this area.