Cambodian garment workers rally for living wage
Around 350 workers march for $177 monthly wage at park in capital where five people were shot dead during strikes in January.

Cambodian garment workers and unions began a campaign for a $177 monthly wage outside factories Wednesday in a bid to highlight what they say are unfair wages.

Inside Phnom Penh’s Canadia Industrial Park - which occupies a large block on dust-choked Veng Sreng Street where five people were shot dead during strikes in January - throngs of workers poured out of their respective factories at lunch time.

Around 350 workers donned bright orange t-shirts emblazoned with the words "we need $177” on the back and marched a short way up the park’s road, off which garment factory warehouses are lined.

Some stood proudly behind banners that accused big-name brands Puma and Zara of starving Cambodian workers.

At present, the minimum wage is set at $100 - a salary that the country’s approximately 600,000 workers say is not reflective of the hours they spend toiling in factories, nor enough to meet the cost of rising inflation.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, called the day a "success” and said he was pleased with the turnout and the message that would be sent to brands.

"We are making a film to send to the companies and I think most of my members joined the campaign,” he told the Anadolu Agency.

"All around the country, in total, I think more than 200,000 people joined us,” he added.

Support for the campaign came from key international labor groups such as the IndustriALL Global Union, the ITUC and UNI Global Union, which called upon affiliates to write letters to Cambodian embassies around the world, seeking action on the minimum wage.

"Garment workers in Cambodia deserve to live in dignity and receive a fair wage,” they said in a joint statement.

"Poverty wages mean that many workers are undernourished and compelled to work exhausting overtime hours to survive.”

Next month, the tripartite Labor Advisory Committee is set to hold talks and a vote on the new minimum wage.

Earlier this month, six of Cambodia’s most prominent unionists were handed charges by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court over mass minimum wage protests in December and January.

The union leaders have been accused of causing intentional violence and damage with aggravating circumstances, as well as blocking traffic - crimes that carry prison sentences of at least 14 years. A statement by international rights organization Human Rights Watch has called the charges "politically motivated.”

Cambodia lags behind its neighbors in how much its workers are paid for their labor. In Vietnam last month, the National Wage Council announced incremental increases that would see the minimum wage there hover between $114 and $146 per month, while Thailand last year introduced a minimum wage of 300 baht ($9) per day.

The Clean Clothes Campaign says $100 falls 21 percent short of what it considers to be a living wage for Cambodia’s workers.

The garment industry has also been heavily criticized for making employees work overtime and leaving them in hazardous conditions.

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Last Modified: 2014-09-19 09:28:24
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