Cambodia garment workers strike for minimum wage hike

Three-day stoppage sees 200,000 demand government increase basic monthly salary from $61 to $93

cambodia garment strike A Cambodian worker addresses colleagues outside a garment factory in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

Strikes by about 200,000 Cambodian textile workers – mainly women – in the capital Phnom Penh and the provinces, in protest over low wages, were suspended after three days last week.

The action followed the announcement in July that the minimum wage for workers in the garment and footwear industry would rise from $50 to $61 a month. The level of the rise outraged trade unions, prompting demands for $93 a month.

Last week's industrial action ended peacefully, but strikers threatened to further action if their demands were not met. "We are not demanding a minimum wage, we want a living wage," said Ath Thorn and Kong Athit, of the Cambodian Labour Confederation.

Their demands are supported by a study published last year by the economist and head of the Cambodian Development Institute Kang Chandararot. He said garment workers could only make a living by doing overtime so were closely dependent on the economic climate. He proposed a viable minimum wage of $90.

Cambodia was hard hit by the international crisis in 2008. Textile exports to the US and Europe, the country's main markets, fell by 23% in 2009. More than 90 factories, often owned by Chinese or Taiwanese operators, closed, laying off about 60,000 workers out of a total of 345,000 in the trade. Conditions in the first half of 2010 have improved, with a 7% increase in exports, but business is still far below its level three years ago. Above all there is still no overtime, prompting the massive strike turnout.

"New demands are surfacing now, after two relatively quiet years, because the worst of the crisis is past and exports are picking up," said Jean-Raphaël Chaponnière, an economist at France's Development Agency (AFD).

François-Marie Grau, the General Secretary of the Women's Clothing Federation in Paris, endorses this view. "What is happening in Cambodia is symptomatic of widespread upward pressure on manufacturing costs all over Asia. The region is enjoying powerful growth so workers are putting pressure on their employers," he said.

Cambodia wages battle for competitiveness

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
An employee sews at a local garment factory.
LABOUR leaders say more than 80,000 of Cambodia’s garment workers plan to take to the streets today for a five-day strike to protest against the country’s newly established minimum wage.

The dispute is one that has played out across the region in recent months. China’s coastal provinces have been hit with a wave of strikes that has made international headlines, and Vietnamese garment factories have seen work stoppages as well.

In Bangladesh, home to the lowest garment-sector wages in the region, an 80 percent increase in the minimum wage was not enough to stave off protests and rioting by workers who say the new minimum – US$43 – remains unacceptably low.

In Cambodia, the wage was increased by $5 in July to $61 a month. Though Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia officials say there is no possibility for a new round of negotiations at this time, the dispute in Cambodia underscores a dilemma facing a number of developing countries that depend on low-cost garment exports: how to keep costs low and competitiveness high while at the same time providing workers with basic livelihoods.

“The win-win situation is to raise both productivity and wages,” said Chikako Oka, a fellow at the London School of Economics who has studied the Cambodian garment sector. “A trickier question is which one comes first and whether one follows the other.”

The wage conundrum

The garment sector has been an engine of the Kingdom’s prodigious economic growth since the 1990s, accounting for 70 percent of Cambodian exports in the first six months of 2010 and up to 90 percent in recent years. As of July, there were 297,000 workers employed in the garment industry and another 48,000 in footwear.

These figures alone do not reflect the industry’s importance to low-income Cambodians – the United Nations estimated last year that 1.6 million Cambodians depend on the garment sector for remittances. The industry was battered by the economic crisis in 2008 and 2009, when the UN estimated that 60,000 jobs were lost.

Tuomo Poutiainen, the International Labour Organisation’s chief technical adviser for its Better Factories Cambodia programme, said the effects of the crisis were still shaping wage negotiations throughout the region. Many workers are agitating for a higher minimum wage in part because of debts incurred as they lost their jobs or overtime hours as orders plunged, he said.

In Cambodia, workers have also been hit with high levels of inflation that have dwarfed wage gains. Since 2006, when the wage was last revised upward, Phnom Penh’s Consumer Price Index has risen 36 percent, including a 51 percent increase in food and beverage prices, according to the National Institute of Statistics.

These figures have led some economists and rights workers to call for more frequent adjustments of the minimum wage, so that increases are felt in real terms. In a 2009 study, Kang Chandararot of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study estimated that the basic monthly needs of garment workers, including an assumed monthly remittance of $15, were roughly $72. He suggested a proportionate increase in the minimum wage, noting the beneficial effect of remittances on Cambodia’s rural economy.

But although the minimum wage has been set at $61, the take-home pay for most workers exceeds this figure. GMAC secretary general Ken Loo said the most recent industry data showed an average monthly wage of $94, as workers benefited from bonuses for attendance, performance and seniority.

“I don’t understand why they are so bent up on this minimum wage issue, because most of the workers, with the exception of very, very few, those that maybe just joined the industry – most of the workers are not drawing minimum,” Loo said. He estimated that the number of workers earning the minimum pay was below 20 percent, though workers earning above the base level will likely benefit from the minimum wage increase on a pro-rated basis.

Life in the garment industry is undoubtedly arduous, with many workers on the job 10 hours a day over a six-day work week. But in an industry where education levels are low and perhaps 90 percent of workers are women, garment factory wages may be the best option for many; according to the World Bank, Cambodia’s gross national income per capita last year was $650, or about $54 a month.

The fight to compete

Cambodia’s garment industry benefited from trade preferences earlier this decade, but with Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2007, the removal of trade safeguards on Chinese producers last year and the emergence of the low-cost Bangladeshi industry, the pressure to compete is increasing.

The Kingdom’s producers have struggled in part with the high cost of electricity – more than double that in Vietnam – and the need to import fabric, though worker productivity is also a concern. Productivity measurements vary, but Poutiainen said it is “generally acknowledged that the productivity levels in Cambodia are lower than the neighbours and competitors”.

Despite this, base wages in recent years have remained close to the regional average. Cambodia’s 2007 minimum wage of $50, calculated in terms of Purchasing Power Parity, was $156. This fell below the PPP$204 per month in China, but ahead of Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Bangladesh.

Cambodia has also maintained a good reputation with companies that favour “ethical sourcing”, Oka said, thanks to its favourable record on labour compliance. A 2007 study on the Cambodian garment sector funded by the United States Agency for International Development lauded this record, but noted that a focus only on labour standards “potentially diverts attention from more systemic issues regarding the sustainability of Cambodian garment exports” as regional competition intensifies.

An increased focus on productivity may do more to increase the incomes of the Kingdom’s garment workers than minimum wage increases, said Mona Tep, director of Cambodia’s Garment Industry Productivity Centre.

She suggested an increased use of the performance incentives and bonuses that form a significant percentage of take-home pay for workers in Vietnam and elsewhere. So far, however, use of these measures has been limited, and more recently, Poutiainen said, anecdotal evidence suggests “a decrease in the application of incentive schemes” as factories look to cut costs.

Another challenge to productivity improvements is the high percentage of foreign factory owners and managers in the Kingdom, researchers say. The relative lack of Cambodians in management positions may diminish workers’ motivation by dimming their assessments of their prospects for advancement, and cultural and language differences can lead to miscommunications that slow down production.

“Chinese supervisors tend to talk loudly when they interact with workers doing their jobs. However, [this] can lead workers to feel that they are being insulted,” the ILO noted earlier this year.

Foreign managers on temporary assignments may also have limited incentive to increase productivity, Mona Tep said. Increased training opportunities for Cambodian managerial candidates, she added, could solve this problem and redirect wages paid to foreign workers into Cambodian hands - foreigners were 2 percent of the garment sector workforce but 10 percent of the wage bill in 2007, the USAID study said. Training for “value-added” activities that many factories currently don’t perform, including specialised design, printing and embroidery, is another potential source of revenue and productivity increases.

The question of whether minimum wage increases should proceed or follow rising productivity remains open to debate. Kang Chandararot argues that minimum wage gains can lead to greater productivity, generating greater job satisfaction and better health among workers. Loo said, however, that wages should be dictated by market forces and should come only after productivity gains.

The increase in labour costs that will come with the minimum wage bump “may not be ideal for the industry at this point”, he added, with the Kingdom already struggling to compete with low-cost exporters. The average unit price of Cambodian garment exports to the US in the first five months of this year was nearly double that of Chinese exports, and was slightly greater than the unit costs of Vietnamese and Bangladeshi exports as well, despite a lack of high-end garments produced here.

Debate over the minimum wage is sure to play out further among academics and on the streets of Phnom Penh this week. But in any case, Mona Tep said, this is only one element in the larger challenge of preserving the Cambodian garment sector.

“We need to focus on a bigger picture,” Mona Tep said. “Minimum wage is one thing, but how can we become competitive – that’s the most important question, because if all the factories go away, what’s a minimum wage for?”

Abhisit, Hun Sen meet in New York, seek closer bilateral ties

New York

Posted Image

The leaders of Thailand and Cambodia met here briefly yesterday and agreed to improve bilateral relations for mutual benefit.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen met for half an hour at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly and the meeting between Asean leaders and US President Barack Obama. The two leaders agreed that warm relations between the two neighbouring countries were vital for the benefit of their peoples.

Although conflicts remain, bilateral trade has increased, Abhisit told Thai News Agency.

Abhisit quoted Hun Sen as telling him that a warm welcome was seen at a recent Thai trade fair in Cambodia and that both countries should refrain from confrontations or violence.

Frequent visits at the ministerial level and more joint activities should be organised, Hun Sen was quoted as saying.

The two countries have been involved in a diplomatic stand-off resulting from a border conflict regarding disputed land adjacent to the ancient Preah Vihear Temple.

Abhisit said the temple row was not raised during his meeting with Hun Sen as the |issue is now being dealt with by concerned agencies. The two premiers could discuss details at several other upcoming international forums.

"The atmosphere for resolving the problem should improve," Abhisit said.

Jet Li, Angelina Jolie targeted for New Movie Called "Great Khmer Empire"

Jet Li (top) and Angelina Jolie (bottom).
PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) - A famous Chinese action movie star Jet Li (Chinese name: Li Lianjie), and American movie actress Angelina Jolie are expected to be included in a new movie to be produced in Cambodia.

In a press conference held on Wednesday in Phnom Penh, Thomas Magyar, a project manager for the planned movie, and Tony Schiena, a project coordinator and a Hollywood star said the film they had planned to produce will be named as "Great Khmer Empire."

They said the film might cost approximately 70 million U.S. dollars and it will need about three years to make it, saying the large time span will be caused by the consultations with Cambodian government and historians on accuracy of the history as well as the script writing.

Both Tony Schiena and Thomas Magyar said, to date, they are looking at several famous movies stars such as Jet Li, Chinese action star, Angelina Jolie, an American movie actress, John Cena, world's famous wrestler and South Korean movie actress Song Hye Kyo among others.

The movie will focus on history of Cambodia, especially, during the glorious period in 11th and 12th century under the King Jayavarman the VII, who until today, considered as the great King of Cambodia and who finished up the building of Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia.

Angelina Jolie adopted a Cambodian son and was granted a Cambodian citizenship.

She was also a star in the famous movie titled "Tomb Raider" which some parts of the episodes were also shot in Siem Reap province where many temples including Angkor Wat Temple are located in.

Making movie in Cambodia

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លោក លីលៀនជា (Jet Li) តារាភាពយន្តចិន (រូបភាព បរទេស)

លោក លីលៀនជា (Jet Li) តារាភាពយន្តចិន (រូបភាព បរទេស)

យោង​តាមប្រភពព័ត៌​មាន​ឱ្យ​ដឹង​ថា លោក ​ហ្សិត​លី (Jet Li) ដែលគេ​ស្គាល់​តាមរយៈ​ឈ្មោះ​ លី លៀន​ជា ជា​តារាភាព​យន្ត​ល្បី​ឈ្មោះ​របស់​ប្រទេស​​ចិន និង​នាង ​អេនចេលីណា ជោលី (Angelina Jolie) ជា​តារាភាព​យន្ត​ហូលីវូដ​ល្បី​ឈ្មោះ​ត្រូវបានគេ​រំពឹង​ថា ​នឹង​ថត​​​ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​ថ្មី​មួយ​រឿង នៅ​ក្នុង​ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា ។ លោក Tomas Magyar ជា​អ្នក​រៀប​ចំ​គំរោង​​សំរាប់ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​ ដែល​គ្រោង​ឡើង​ថ្លែង​​ក្នុង​​ឱកាស​នៃ​សន្និ​សីទ​កាសែត​មួយ​ដែល​រៀប​ចំ​ឡើង​ នៅ​ក្នុងរាជធានីភ្នំពេញ កាលពីថ្ងៃទី​​២២ កញ្ញា ថា ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​​ដែលលោក​គ្រោង​ផលិត​នោះ​នឹង​ត្រូវ​ដាក់​ចំណងជើង​ថា «មហា​អធិរាជ​ខ្មែរ» (“Great Khmer Empire”) ដោយ​នឹង​​ត្រូវ​ចំណាយ​ប្រាក់​អស់​៧០​លាន​ដុល្លារ​​អាមេរិក ហើយ​នឹង​ត្រូវ​ការ​ពេល​ថត​​យ៉ាង​ហោច​ណាស់​៣​ឆ្នាំ​ ។ លោក​ Tomas Magyar ថ្លែង​​ឱ្យ​ដឹង​ទៀត​ថា ការ​ចំណាយ​ពេល​យ៉ាង​យូរ ដើម្បី​​ផលិត​ និង​ថត​ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​នេះ គឺមកពី​ត្រូវ​ពិគ្រោះ​យោ​បល់​ជាមួយរដ្ឋាភិបាល​កម្ពុជា និ​ង​អ្នក​​ប្រវត្តិ​សាស្ត្រ​​កម្ពុជា ស្តី​អំពី​ភាព​ច្បាស់​លាស់​​នៃប្រវត្តិសាស្ត្រ​របស់​ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា ។

នាង ជោលី (Angelina Jolie) (រូបភាព បរទេស)

នាង ជោលី (Angelina Jolie)

តាម​ប្រភពព័ត៌​មាន​ដដែល​​​ឱ្យ​ដឹង​ទៀត​ថា ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​នោះ​នឹង​ផ្តោត​ជា​ពិសេស​ទៅ​លើ​ប្រវត្តិសាស្ត្រ​របស់​ប្រទេស​ កម្ពុជា ជា​ពិសេស​អំឡុង​​ពេលនៃ​របប​រុង​រឿង ក្រោមការ​ដឹកនាំ​របស់​​ព្រះ​បាទ​ជ័យ​វរ្ម័ន​ទី​៣ ក្នុងសតវត្ស​ទី​១១ និង​សតវត្ស​ទី​១២ ដែលត្រូវបាន​ចាត់​ទុក​ថា​ជា​ព្រះមហាក្សត្រ​​ដ៏​អស្ចារ្យ​របស់​កម្ពុជា និង​ថែម​ទាំង​បាន​ធ្វើជា​សាក្សី​នៃ​ការ​កសាង​រួច​រាល់​នៃ​ប្រាសាទ​អង្គរ​ វត្ត ។ នាង​អេន​ចេលីណា ជោលី ជា​តារា​ភាព​យន្ត​ហូលីវូដ​ល្បីឈ្មោះ​ធ្លាប់​បាន​ថត​ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​នៅ​ក្នុង​ ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា​ម្តង​រួច​​ហើយ​គឺ​រឿង​ “Tomb Raider” ដោយថត​នៅ​ខេត្ត​សៀមរាប ​ជា​តំបន់​​ទេសចរ​ណ៍​ដ៏​សំខាន់​មួយ​របស់​ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា​ ហើយ​ម្យ៉ាង​វិញទៀត នាង​ជោ​លី ក៏​បាន​សុំ​ក្មេង​ប្រុស​កម្ពុជា​ម្នាក់​យកធ្វើ​ជា​កូន​​​ចិញ្ចឹម​ផងដែរ ។

នាង ហាន់ជីអ៊ុន (Song Hye Kyo) (រូបភាព បរទេស)

នាង ហាន់ជីអ៊ុន (Song Hye Kyo)

ទាក់ទិន​ទៅនឹង​ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​រឿង «មហា​អធិរាជ​ខ្មែរ» (“Great Khmer Empire”) នោះ​ដែរ លោក Tomas Magyar ថ្លែង​ថា រូប​លោក និង​លោក Tony Schiena ជា​អ្នកសំរប​សំរួល​គំរោង​ថ្លែង​ថា ពួក​គេ​បាន​សំលឹង​មើល​ដើម្បី​ជ្រើស​រើស​​ចូលរួមថ​ត​ក្នុង​ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​ នោះផងដែរ មានដូចជា​នាង Song Hye Kyo ដែលស្គាល់​តាម​រយៈ​ឈ្មោះ​នាង ហាន់​ជីអ៊ុន ជា​តារា​ភាព​យន្ត​ល្បី​ឈ្មោះ​របស់​កូរ៉េ​ខាង​ត្បូង​ នឹង​លោក ចន ស៊ីណា (John Cena) ជាអ្នក​​កីឡាកាស់ល្បី​ឈ្មោះ ។ ​គេ​​រំពឹង​ថា ខ្សែ​ភាព​យន្ត​នោះនឹង​ផ្តល់​ការងារ​យ៉ាង​ច្រើន​សំរាប់​ពលរដ្ឋ​ខ្មែរ ៕

លោក ចន ស៊ីណា (John Cena) តារាកីឡាកាស (រូបភាព បរទេស)

លោក ចន ស៊ីណា (John Cena)

Friends: Woman had intense color phobia before fatal shootings

Friends: Woman had intense color phobia before fatal shootings

Friends and family members leave gifts at a small shrine set up for the victims of the West Seattle shootings.

SEATTLE - Two days after a tragic shooting rampage, friends and family of the four victims gathered together for strength even as they opened up more about the mental illness that plagued the woman responsible for the killings.

Police say Sarouen Phan, 60, opened fire inside a West Seattle home on Thursday and fired at least 20 rounds, wounding her daughter and killing her son-in-law and two granddaughters before turning the gun on herself.

Family members earlier said Sarouen Phan had been struggling with schizophrenia and depression for several years but may not have been properly taking her medication for the past couple of months.

And on Saturday a family friend said Phan's illness took a turn about a year and a half ago, as she developed an intense phobia about colors and became more distant from her family.

"I know this family since I was, like, 12 years old in Cambodia," says family friend Sean Phuong.

Sean Phuong was with Sarouen Phan and her family in a refugee camp, then the Philippines. They've stayed close for decades - but he too saw mental illness overtaking her.

"She don't want any color. She don't want to see any color," Sean Phuong says.

On the day she erupted, family members say she walked downstairs and began firing a gun at her family members without uttering a word.

She was dressed all in white as she calmly pulled the trigger.

Sean Phuong says in the past few months Sarouen Phan would not talk to anyone who was dressed in dark clothing.

"No blue, no black. No anything. Only white. Then you can talk to her," he says. "But a friend or granddaughter, grandson, want to talk to her - you wear black like this, she don't want to talk. She don't want to see it."

Now Sean Phuong is sheltering and comforting the family in their extreme distress.

Phan's daughter, Thyda Harm, was shot three times and lost her husband and two daughters. Now she and her surviving three children are staying with Phuong.

"This morning, we take all the bandages, clean up again - two times. Like two times a day," he says.

The ordeal is still to raw for Thyda Harm to talk about - even with the people she knows best.

"We cannot say, like, your husband or your daughter died. We don't talk to her at all," Phuong explains.

Thyda Harm and her family are looking for a new place to live - but now the children have no father. And the family has no money.


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