The Future of Garment Workers

During the Chinese New Year, I travel to my sweet hometown at Kampong Cham province. I travel by bus. At that time, there are several factory garment workers in the bus. Almost 100 kilometer distance from city that the bus wheels run, it’s silent in the bus—no any discussion. But a big talk starts when the bus passes the Kampong Cham Garment Factory.

Our discussion goes on in a very smoothly because we have a garment worker that joins the protests demanding to increase wage. We try to argue that increasing wage is the better to improve their living after seeing a worker buying street food in front of the factory,

However, increasing salary is not the best way to improve living standard. Government should take action on inflation of food coast, gasoline and house rent cost. The wage has been increased many times, but the workers could not live in a better life. When increasing the wage, the cost of living is also increased.

In 1996, 17 years ago, factory garment worker wage was $25 per month, then it was increased to $45 in 2004, and it reached to $72 in recently. However, with this wage, the workers cannot live in a standard condition. They need more than $100 to support their daily living.

The workers need to spend on food, clothes, accommodation, water and electricity, medicine and travel cost. In short, they could only save a very little money for their family at the province.

On the other hands, please notice that the food coast, house rent and travelling are always increased every month. Sometime, the landlord will increase the house rent price if they heard the workers get more salary.

In the neighboring countries, the salary is higher than Cambodia’s. For example, Thai workers get $300 per month, Vietnamese workers earn $180, Indonesian workers get $200, and the Philippine workers are provided $200.

It will be trouble if society ignores it.

To fight with this, first, the government should take action the inflation of food, gasoline and house rent. The businesspeople, sellers and landlord increase the price by themselves. If they want to increase, they increase—no need to wait for the market price. In 2010, 10.000R can buy a kilogram of pork, but now it increase to 17.000R for a kilogram.

Second, government should control or monitor the workplace standard. From time to time, there are a lot of illness cases happening to the workers because of the bad environment condition. The officers should be responsible for this because they work for people—do not let the under table money from the businesspeople blind their eyes. Good workplace environment, good health, good life. The workers do not need to spend their money on medicine.

Finally, the factory should respect the workers’ rights that have written in the law. Employers sometimes abuse the law, ignore their responsibilities when their employees need their help.

Among these three suggestions if we could solve them, the factory garment workers living will be better. But the question is whether we all have willing to achieve it or not? It is still the question.


Photo: 22-year-old Sorn Tola (second from right) says that after her last pay rise, rents were put up. Often workers’ accommodation is owned by the factories. © Will Bakter

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