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When COVID-19 hit Cambodia, Sothie and Samnang had a very difficult time. Their workplaces were affected and, as their salaries slowly shrank, they became moody more frequently. But today, the two men try to live normal lives again and keep on analyzing social trends when they meet as they did prior to the pandemic. Some people joke about the fact that they do this, saying that Sothie and Samnang have nothing else to do beside chitchatting about society. In fact, they have jobs and heavy workloads to handle. They just try to find time to talk about today’s issues and share their thoughts with others. Today, the two men discussed some of the repercussions of COVID-19.
Sothie: During the pandemic, many businesses in about every country were forced to shut down. Some employees received assistance from their companies or governments. Others found themselves jobless with no financial support. How about the situation in Cambodia? How would you say it was for workers?
Samnang: The situation in Cambodia has not been that different than in other countries. Between 2020 and 2021, many businesses were forced to stop operating. Others were temporarily closed. But at the beginning of 2022, the private sector started to bounce back.
Sothie: How would you say businesses handle the challenge in Cambodia?
Samnang: When they heard about the impact of the pandemic, some businesses immediately shut down their operations and vanished, leaving their employees without any assistance. Their justification was that the pandemic was a global phenomenon and that no employer bore responsibility. Because of this, many employees went back to their hometowns in the provinces and lived thanks to their their families’ support.
Sothie: I don’t think that all companies in Cambodia were that unsupportive of their people.
Samnang: That is right. Some companies were very supportive of their employees. They kept operating but on a smaller scale so they could keep their workers and ramped up operations when normalcy started to return. They did not even change employees.
Sothie: How about the companies that shut down and disappeared as soon as the pandemic occurred?
Samnang: Those companies have experienced staff shortages as their former employees did not come back, having found new jobs. In Siem Reap city, I have heard that a number of employees went to work in Phnom Penh or Sihanoukville, and have not returned. There were several reasons for this. In some cases, companies had laid off their employees too quickly when COVID-19 started to affect the country. In others, employers said they had run out of money during the pandemic and could not reopen. That really angered some workers.
Sothie: There really were employers like this?
Samnang: From what I have heard from several people, yes, there were employers like this. However, there also have been the opposite, and some kind-hearted employers have kept their businesses going with all their employees remaining. Those who laid off workers too early are now facing shortage of manpower and have difficulty resuming operations. Several employees today have little respect for some of them and feel like telling them “don’t try to be the smartest all the time.” Those unsupportive employers can do little but remembering this and move on.