Suspended Factory Workers Seek Aid Extension

Garment workers walk into a factory in Phnom Penh on August 26, 2021. Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy / AFP

PHNOM PENH – Ministry of Labor cash assistance for suspended factory workers will help only some of them and only to some extent, union leaders say.

As the assistance is only for workers suspended from next month, the unionists and suspended workers have asked the government to consider providing help to many workers suspended earlier.

On Mar. 15, Ith Samheng, Minister of Labour and Vocational Training, issued an instruction on cash aid for workers who are suspended due to factory problems.

This follows Prime Minister Hun Sen’s directive after concerns raised over the increasing suspensions and closures of factories that have left thousands of workers unemployed or suspended.

According to the instruction, there are two types of subsidy. Workers who are suspended from seven to 14 days will receive $35, of which $20 is from the government and $15 will be from the factory owners.

Workers suspended from 15 days to one month will get $70, of which $40 is from the government and $30 is from the owners.

The minister said the subsidy for factory workers was to support their livelihood during the suspension. Only workers in the garment, footwear, bags, and travel products sectors will receive these benefits, which apply only to factory suspensions from April 1.

Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), said the assistance would definitely help the suspended workers but only to some extent and only some of them.

“Only 71 big factories have been suspended properly while there are many small factories that have been suspended or closed by the owners,” he said.

The government should consider providing the assistance to all suspended workers, he said.

“The government should take into consideration that some factories did not close or suspend properly. Some owners opened another factor after having closed the one old, leaving the workers suspended and unemployed, without taking any responsibility,” Thon said.

Say Sokny, vice president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said providing only for the workers who will be suspended from April 1 was a little contribution but better than nothing.

Sokny thought the assistance was urgent help to prevent the situation from getting more chaotic before the upcoming election.

“We are grateful for the assistance. This subsidy, however, would not be enough for the workers to live on,” Sokny said.

"Inflation has raised the cost of goods, which forces workers to spend more money. Only employment enables people to make ends meet,” she said.

Small, medium, and big factories, either legal or illegal (sub-contractor), have been suspended dramatically in the last few months, she said.

“The assistance will help ease the hardships of the workers of the legal factories that are approved by the Ministry of Labour in accordance with legal procedures only, which means if there are factories that do not practice the legal procedures, the workers there won’t be able to receive the benefit,” she said.

Sokny said that in some factories, employers are only providing $15 per month and some give as much as $85 per month, while the workers spend at least $200 per month.

“Comparing the assistance to the wage, it’s a big gap. Workers cannot survive like this unless they have a decent job,” she said.

Sokny said there was not an exact figure on the number of factories that would be suspended in April. Many suspended workers had come to the organization to speak about their problems, including loans, inflation, unemployment, poverty and family situations.

“Workers who were suspended before the government’s decision on assistance have contacted us and asked what they can do to receive the assistance too,” she said.

Originally from Takeo province, Ky Thea, 33, came to work in a factory in Phnom Penh, where he had been working for around 10 years before the factory suspended operations in January.

Thea would prefer to have a decent job as before because he earned more from working full-time. However, Thea, as a suspended worker before the assistance announcement, also wants aid to help cover his expenses.

He said the factory and its workers had agreed upon $27 per month during the suspension. The amount was not enough for him to support his family while he is the only breadwinner and responsible for loan repayments and children’s studies.

Thea said his wife, who contributed earlier to the family finances, had been laid off and could not find work around their hometown.

He must spend more than $125 per month, excluding the loan, for his family while temporary jobs do not earn much. Thea cannot be employed at another factory or workplace either because his name remains at the previous factory. Thea also does not want to abandon his seniority payment there either. 

The factory has been suspended until May. Ky Thea said he has never been told to return to work but was called when it was time to sign a thumbprint to continue the suspension with the factory. 

Ky Thea is currently earning from farming and laboring in wedding hall installation and planning in his hometown.

His earnings can be as much as his wage only when there are many weddings — which is seasonal — though working in a factory tends to require less strength.

Another suspended worker in a similar situation is Pha Bunthoeun, 42, who has been suspended since January and is now working in construction.

Although he gets $30 per month from the employer, there is still a problem with a loan payment. Like Ky Thea, Bunthoeun does not earn much from his temporary job, which only pays him irregularly due to its unspecific working schedule.

“It’s not enough to feed the whole family, because there has to be financial support for my children’s studies too,” said Bunthoeun, adding that their monthly expense is from around $100 to nearly $200.

If given the option, Bunthoeun would also like to ask for cash assistance too, believing it would cover some expenses, especially supporting his children.

The FTUWKC’s vice president Sokny also urged the Labor Ministry to make sure proper legal procedures are followed when there is a suspension.

Some factories have been suspended for six months in a row and pay suspended workers only $30 per month.

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