Cambodian Labour Day 2023

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On May 1st, 2023, hundreds of Cambodian workers took to the streets to mark Labour Day and demanded better working conditions and higher wages. The demonstrations were peaceful and well-organized, with no reports of violence or clashes with the authorities. The protesters carried banners and placards with slogans such as “Workers are not slaves”, “We deserve a living wage”, and “Respect our rights”. They also sang songs and chanted slogans in Khmer and English, expressing their solidarity and determination.

The demonstrations were part of a nationwide campaign by the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), the largest independent trade union in the country. The CLC represents workers from various sectors, including garment, construction, tourism, and agriculture. The CLC has been advocating for a minimum wage increase from $192 to $250 per month, as well as improved health and safety standards, social protection, and freedom of association. The CLC claims that the current minimum wage is insufficient to cover the basic needs of workers and their families, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of living.

The demonstrations were also supported by other civil society groups, human rights organizations, and opposition parties. They called on the government to respect the rights of workers and engage in dialogue with the unions. They also urged the international community to pressure the Cambodian government to uphold its obligations under the International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions and other human rights treaties.

The Cambodian government has not responded to the workers’ demands and has maintained tight control over the labour movement. The government has been accused of cracking down on unions and activists, restricting their freedom of expression and assembly, and using legal threats and intimidation to silence dissent. The government has also been criticized for failing to protect workers from exploitation, abuse, and discrimination by employers and foreign investors.

The Cambodian Labour Day demonstrations were a sign of the growing discontent and frustration among the working class in Cambodia. They also showed the strength and resilience of the labour movement in the face of repression and hardship. The workers vowed to continue their struggle until their demands are met and their dignity is restored.

***Rising costs and static wages are causing the ordinary working population to struggle in Cambodia. This means that the prices of goods and services are increasing faster than the income of most people, especially those who work in the garment, textile, and footwear industries. These industries are vital to Cambodia’s economy, as they account for some 80 per cent of total exports and employ over 700,000 workers. However, the workers in these industries only receive a minimum wage of US$194 per month for regular workers and US$192 per month for probationary workers. This is barely enough to cover their basic needs, such as food, transportation, accommodation, and health care. Moreover, the minimum wage has only increased by US$10 in three years, while inflation and living expenses have risen faster. The government has tried to balance the interests of the workers and the employers, but many workers are still dissatisfied with their low wages and poor working conditions. They demanded a higher minimum wage of US$204 per month, but this was rejected by the government. The workers have also faced challenges from the withdrawal of Cambodia’s partial ‘Everything but Arms’ status by the European Union, which gave the country duty-free access to EU markets. This has reduced the demand for Cambodian exports and threatened the jobs of many workers. Therefore, rising costs and static wages are creating a lot of hardship and discontent among the ordinary working population in Cambodia.***

“It’s not fair that we work so hard to make clothes, shoes, and other products for the Western markets, but we barely get enough money to survive. The companies that sell our goods charge high prices to their customers, but they pay us very low wages. They don’t care about our health, safety, or dignity. They only care about their profits. We deserve better than this. We deserve to have a decent living standard, to have access to education and health care, and to have a voice in our workplaces. We are not machines. We are human beings”. Anonymous quote

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