Recently I was quoted in an article tiling “What’s the Price of Workers’ Lives in Cambodia?” by Anne Elizabeth Moore, a USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Fellow, Weinberg Fellow at the Newberry Library, a Fulbright scholar, and the author of several award-winning non-fiction books. The article touches upon recent violent crackdown by government on the demonstrations by garment workers demanding a fair wage, that resulted in five deaths and dozens of injuries.
Following Anne’s article, there is a response from Chrek Sophea, a Cambodian feminist and worker rights activist and former garment worker based in Phnom Penh, to Anne’s article but she mainly expressed her opinion on my quote specifically; her article tilting “The human right to a living wage is far from being won in Cambodia”
Sophea also shared her article to me directly and I am glad she did so and here is my copied response to her feedback:
Cited Sophea’s article: “According to Chak, the workers’ movement did not provide enough evidence to show that the garment workers cannot survive on the current minimum wage. But what kind of data do we need to prove that workers cannot survive on the current wage? And who should be qualified to conduct the data collection?”
My response: My argument is not to deny that hardest fact of workers has been faced. I have been traveled to area where worker has been staying, sharing room etc, and just imagine ourselves in their shoe of living standard with high inflation in Cambodia within these few years, it would even harder. So, just to make it clear with you that I don’t mean to question on this. What I has been suggesting is the way for effective advocacy by union leaders and also CNRP [opposition party] who also voiced support for workers at that time to come up with data argument. So far different argument has been raised by all sectors, let alone not to expect from GMAC per se to support this, some even put the figure higher, so if we could come up with data properly, the figure for workers salary would even higher and I would even encourage for the demand for other associated proper benefit that worker shall entitled to to ensure their adjusted salary rate would not be just ended up the same inflation challenge (namely, when I bought the orange at market, sellers would say that the price now increased because even workers’ salary increased, so here the argument is not just about salary increase but the inflation adjustment issue that the government must ensure this). That was absent during the strike.
Cited Sophea’s article: “Chak goes on to pose the question: Is it only garment workers who deserve such a pay increase? Why not raise the pay for teachers (who are also poorly paid in Cambodia) as well?”
My respone: You even raised this further, which of course this was my conversation with Anne during her interview. I did not raise this question by myself, but it was the context in the interview that whether it would be worth to have a national minimum wage or not and why only worker now, how is others. So, I had raised all civil servants including teachers who received very modest salary, and if current mass could raised up to national minimum wage or whatever it would be based on such as education, sectors etc, why not?
Cited Sophea’s article: “I could add to her questions. Why not also look at the pay of military? Or that of medical doctors? Why is it NGOs worker earn much more than civil servants? Should we debate who should get less based on their educational background?”
My response: I think you raised a good question and this is what we should draw upon more study and if these sectors could earn a proper wage to ensure their living standard with dignity, that is the benefit for the society.
Cited Sophea’s article: “Should we demand that some people have their pay lowered because they currently get paid more than garment workers and others? Of course, that would be ridiculous.”
My response: I do not know what make you draw this question, but I would say the same that it is ridiculous and like to cut head to fit hat issue.
I have realized Anne has also elaborated her purpose, definition, and ultimate aim of her article tilting “Wages: minimum, living, decent, and fair” which I believe three of us (Anne, Sophea and I myself) including others would agree altogether:
Anne’s response to Sophea:
“What we need to do,” Chrek Sophea writes at the end of her essay, “is to support and join the struggle to improve all people’s livelihood.”
I couldn’t agree more, and believe my piece reflects that.
I am not sure if this is a matter of quote, language, or any other reason, I believe we shared common goals and this positively proved to me that people are watching the current Cambodia closely now, espeically the ordinary citizen, who are willing to stand up for human rights cause.