Eak Yuthea Reak went to Bak Touk High School in Phnom Penh on Friday clutching a small piece of paper inscribed with seven names. He was there to collect the national exam results of a group of friends who couldn’t bear the stress of finding out their scores in person.
Garment workers’ calls for a $160 minimum wage are justified and should be honored, a new report by an international team of academics and labor experts has found.
The authors—including a team from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, South Korean and Philippine union groups, and the Asia Monitor Resource Center in Hong Kong—traveled to Cambodia to speak with workers and union activists following the government’s suppression of garment strikes in January during which five people were killed.
“The demand of Cambodian workers to lift the minimum wage to $160 is fair and reasonable, as their real wages have been stagnant despite their tremendous contribution to Cambodia’s economic growth,” states the 52-page report, which will be released officially on Thursday in Hong Kong.
“The disproportionate use of force by the government to suppress these legitimate protests demonstrates that the government is more concerned with protecting the interests and profits of the employers of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) than protecting the workers’ rights to a decent living wage, freedom of association and other basic human rights,” it continues.
The investigating team found that workers were driven to protest based on three main issues: poor wages, “dismal” working conditions, and a “lack of democratic space to address workers’ concerns.”
The team that conducted the research said their aim was to understand the workers’ perspectives and motivations for taking to the streets, but found that many workers were now scared to broach the subject of what happened on January 2 and 3.
“The violent repression of workers’ protests causing deaths was unprecedented, excessive and unnecessary causing a human rights emergency,” it said.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said he could not comment until he had read the report.
GMAC has said that a $160 minimum wage would drive brands away from Cambodia. The Ministry of Labor, however, found in its 2013 annual report that a minimum living wage for garment workers would be between $157 and $177 per month.
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