Cambodia hikes wages for garment workers as PM eyes poll

Cambodia’s government on Thursday hiked the minimum wage for garment workers by $17 a month, heeding demands from unions as Prime Minister Hun Sen looks to shore up support ahead of key polls.

The self-described strongman has been leading a policy charm offensive on the garment sector ahead of a national election in 2018 that will test his 32-year hold on power.

Since August he has met weekly with crowds of textile employees, who prop up a multi-billion dollar industry and have often clashed with his government over working conditions and pay.

Hun Sen has been handing out cash to workers at the gatherings and also rolled out a raft of new benefits from free medical check-ups to bonuses for pregnant women who give birth.

The latest gift was a pay rise that will lift the monthly minimum wage from $153 to $170 starting in January 2018.

The ministry of labour said in a statement that employers, union representatives and government officials on Thursday afternoon had originally agreed to raise pay only to $165.

But Hun Sen, who “always cares about the welfare and livelihood of the employees,” decided to add $5 on top, the statement said.

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Cambodia’s more than 740,000 textile workers will also receive other monthly benefits, including $7 allowance for transportation and accommodation and $10 reward for regular work.

Union representatives and workers applauded the news.

“This is the figure that we want,” Ath Thorn of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Unions told AFP.

A 25-year-old garment worker, Bo Sorphea, told AFP the premier had successfully secured her vote.

“I am happy with the benefits promised by the prime minister. I and my family will vote for him,” she said.

Hun Sen’s outreach to the key voting bloc comes as he cracks down on political opponents.

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Since he nearly lost to the opposition in a 2013 poll, the 65-year-old has used his clout over the courts to batter his rivals with legal charges.

The clampdown was ramped up last month when opposition leader Kem Sokha was thrown into a remote jail on treason charges, a dramatic arrest that sent fear rippling through the embattled opposition movement.

Since then, nearly half of the opposition party’s MPs have fled the country.