Die letzten, sprich die Näherinnen, beißen die Hunde

13. September 2010 | Von Alfred Wilhelm Meier

Nachfolgend ein “bitterböser” Kommentar (in der Originalfassung) eines Redaktors der “The Phnom Penh Post”: er zeigt die volkswirtschaftlichen Zusammenhänge auf, weitet damit die Diskussion um die Mindestlöhne in Kambodscha aus und zeigt Lösungsansätze auf.

Strikes could undermine Cambodia’s advantage

FEW could doubt the moral case for the strikes that look set to crippleCambodia’s garment sector this week, but worker action could undermine one of the few advantages the Kingdom has over its competitors – low wages.

When garment producers look toCambodia, low monthly wages remain one of the few competitive advantages the Kingdom has over major rivals in the industry.

At US$61 per month,Cambodia’s minimum wage for garment workers is one of the lowest in the world.

OnlyBangladeshpays less at $45 per month, and neighbouringVietnamoffers a minimum wage of between $63 and $90 per month.

If Cambodia’s garment industry is to remain competitive on the global stage and raise wages, the key is to offer investors a reason to come to the
Kingdom.

And unfortunately little else about the country offers foreign companies a competitive advantage.

In terms of costs,Cambodiaremains one of the most expensive garment exporters in the world.

Electricity, a major cost for factories, was three times as expensive inCambodialast year as inVietnamat $0.22 per kilowatt-hour, according to the International Monetary Fund.

And the Kingdom’s neighbour offers a workforce that the World Bank ranks as more efficient and productive than that inCambodia.

In addition, garment exporters inCambodiahave been plagued by persistently high export costs. GivenCambodia’s lack of a deepwater port all shipments must go viaHong Kong,Singaporeor southernVietnam.

Therefore this week’s strikes pose a real threat to an industry that last year suffered a much more significant downturn than its main competitors and is only just in recovery.

After a 15.6 percent rise in exports in the first half of this year,Cambodiais only just starting to get back to the same level of production experienced before the onset of the global economic crisis.

It was notable thatCambodiafaired much worse during the slump last year than competitorsVietnamandBangladesh, a sign that buyers looked to more competitive products according to the IMF. Therefore,Cambodia’s dilemma of paying its workers well while remaining competitive on costs is an issue that must be addressed at the structural level of the economy.

In the long term, the government has to begin to initiate economic policies that don’t simply rely on paying the Kingdom’s workers a low wage.

If foreign companies were able to operate here without incurring high costs, the industry could compete and expand in a hugely competitive global market.

In many ways this week’s strikes represent a symptom of the main problems facingCambodia’s economy – the key is therefore to cure the underlying problems.

Unfortunately, if companies were to pay the $93 per month demanded by unions then the Kingdom’s wages would be higher thanVietnam’s.

In such a scenario why would a foreign company decide to come toCambodia?

Source: The Phnom Penh Post, Sept 13, 2010

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