Cambodia agreed Thursday to increase the minimum wage of workers in its garment and textiles industry, its most crucial sector that generates $5 billion annually, to $140 a month, according to media reports. The new wages will take effect at the beginning of next year.
The decision, which came after days of protests, was made through a vote by representatives of the government, factories and unions, on instructions from Prime Minister Hun Sen. Majority of the voters reportedly supported an increase to $135 a month from the current $128. The government then raised that to $140 in a decision taken by the prime minister.
The increase, however, fell short of the $160 a month wage proposed by unions, having scaled down an initial demand of $177.
"This figure is reasonable and acceptable. Even it's not acceptable to all, we have no choice," Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng told reporters, according to Reuters.
According to the Labor Ministry's statement, cited by the Associated Press, after calculating other benefits, workers will be able to make an average of $157 to $168 monthly next year.
“As wages gradually increase, it is important for the industry to improve overall productivity, and for garment buyers to examine their purchasing practices," the International Labor Organization reportedly said, in a statement.
The clothing and footwear industry is the largest export earner for the Southeast Asian nation, and reportedly employs about 700,000 people in more than 700 garment and shoe factories. But like in other developing countries in the region such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, wages in Cambodia remain low by international standards.
"I am not satisfied with this new wage," Ath Thorn, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, reportedly said. "I think the net salary of each garment worker should be at least $150 per month not $140 as cited by the Labor Ministry."