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New Survey Shows Cambodian Workers Improving Knowledge of Labor Rights, Safety

One of the biggest obstacles to improving labor conditions in Cambodia is the lack of knowledge regarding safety on the part of workers. To increase worker awareness about their rights and labor conditions, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has organized a mobile phone survey project meant to measure what workers know, and what they don’t. And recently released results from the survey point to marked improvement.

The “Kamako Chhnoeum” project, or “Outstanding Worker” project, allows factory workers to call in for free on two separate networks, and employs an interactive voice response system to both receive and dispense information. Each caller selects a particular subject area, and then is given a brief, three-question quiz asking basic questions that pertain to that subject. The program is also sponsored by Better Factories Cambodia.

Over the course of November and December, 1,991 calls were received, which is down from the 3,245 calls that came in during the previous two months. The survey results revealed that 70 percent of respondents properly understand the need for fire emergency drills to be performed twice a year and 76 percent know how to respond to a fire alarm.

Also, 65 percent of workers now understand their right to maternity leave, which is significant because more than 90 percent of all factory workers in Cambodia are female.

As a consequence of massive worker demonstrations and strikes, international attention has been drawn to the plight of the Cambodian factory worker. Cambodian laborers and factory owners have been locked in an often tempestuous dispute about both wage increases and the increments with which they will be enacted. Initially, the Labour Advisory Committee reported a $15 increase in monthly wages, effective April 1, 2014. Under the newly accepted plan, the minimum wage will rise incrementally over the next five years, lifting it from its current $80 per month to more than  $160 per month. In 2015, the monthly minimum wage is set to increase again by $15, then by $16 in 2016, $17 in 2017 and, finally, $17 in 2018.

The stakes for Cambodia are high as it becomes progressively more reliant upon its burgeoning garment industry. In the first eleven months of 2013, it earned $5.1 billion exporting garments, a 22 percent increase over last year. The industry employs more than 300,000 workers. Foreign investment has recently poured into Cambodia from Australia, England, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, China, Taiwan and the U.S. China alone sent the nation $121 million in 2013.