Authorities in Cambodia have set the country’s 2023 minimum wage to U.S. $200 per month, but labor leaders told RFA the $6 increase is not enough to keep pace with inflation.
The Minimum Wage Council decided on next year’s salary in a meeting held Wednesday. Cambodia’s unions asked for a minimum wage ranging from $206 to $213, but employers and government officials agreed to increase it to $198, according to a statement from the Ministry of Labor.
The country’s leader, Hun Sen, decided then to round the figure up to $200, the statement said. When state benefits are included, the minimum income for Cambodians now comes to between $217 and $228, the statement said.
Cambodia’s Minister of Labor Ith Sam Heng told reporters the new wage will help workers, but union leaders and workers told RFA’s Khmer Service they were disappointed with the raise.
“I am sad because the government must play a vital role in defining the new minimum wage, and they know about inflation,” Yang Sophorn, the president of Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), told RFA.
“Inflation is 5 percent. The government only added $6 to the current minimum wage of $194,” she said.
The Cambodian Labor Federation was unhappy with the decision, its president, Ath Thun, told RFA.
“We don’t like the results, but it has been done. The union will continue to work with workers and listen to their reactions,” Ath Thun said. “We will ask the government to reduce utility bills and fight against inflation, especially in gasoline and food prices.”
Yorn Yoert, a worker, told RFA that she has begun cutting back on food to save money.
“I eat food not for enjoying its taste, but just to survive, because I have reduced spending,” she said. “Before I had three meals daily but now I skip breakfast.” She also criticized the wage increase as insufficient.
Many Cambodian workers reject the kow pay and seek opportunities in neighboring countries like Thailand. But migrants told RFA that they face exploitation by their employers and risk imprisonment if caught by authorities without proper documentation.
Thai employers sometimes force Cambodian migrants to work overtime without pay, Ling Sophon, project coordinator for the Phnom Penh-based Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights NGO, told RFA.
Workers report that the documents that they need to legally work in Thailand are more expensive, and there are not many job opportunities right now, he said.
Migrants are also unfamiliar with immigration laws and Cambodian officials often don’t help them if they get arrested, Ling Sophon said. Over the last three months, migrants have complained about their difficulties renewing their passports, work permits and other documents, she said.
The husband of Cambodian migrant Chey Mom was recently arrested by Thai police and sentenced to 18 months in jail, she told RFA. The couple had been living in Thailand for the past seven years.
She said that since the arrest it has become harder to support her two children, who are of school age. She also asked Cambodia’s government for help.
Another migrant, Cheng Nai, told RFA she is continuing to work in Thailand even though she risks arrest after she lost her legal documents when COVID-19 pandemic hit the country.
The pandemic has also decreased job opportunities as tourism dried up. But she won’t go back to Cambodia, she says, because the pay is much lower and there are even fewer jobs.
“Here it is easier to find a job, I am 41 years old now, I am afraid in Cambodia they will stop taking [older workers],” Cheng Nai said. “In Thailand they accept me for jobs even though I don’t have a passport. I want to work in Thailand.”
Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.