Businesses such as restaurants and cafés that have been told to remain open this week have reported reduced staff numbers yesterday, on what was supposed to be the first day of the traditional four-day Khmer New Year holiday. This is despite a ban on all celebrations and postponement of the official public holidays by Prime Minister Hun Sen last week, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Khmer Times spoke with these business owners and managers around Phnom Penh that have followed the PM’s request to keep their establishments open. However, they are now struggling to properly maintain staff numbers to work from April 13 to April 16, as many local employees are “simply refusing to work and want to return home”.
One restaurant manager said that his head chef, plus several other employees, had still refused to work even after he explained to his staff that the national holiday had been called off as an emergency measure.
“Despite our repeated explanations, in both Khmer and English, that Mr Hun Sen had postponed the holiday period and the offer of a special bonus to our staff on top of their normal salary, a few of our employees have not turned up for work and are attempting to return to their homes in the provinces,” the manager said.
“Furthermore, I tried to explain that returning home may not be possible, as the prime minister has also issued an order for a week-long ban on all travel in the country, including leaving and entering Phnom Penh, from one district to another and from one province to another. ‘We will be fine’ was their response,” the manager added.
According to the Ministry of Labour spokesperson Heng Sour, under official Cambodian Labour Laws, an employer would be within their rights to terminate an employment contract after one official warning of a missed work day without a valid reason.
“If employees do not come to their contracted and rostered shift, employers have solid grounds to terminate their contract under the Company Act, as this [holiday postponement] is a government order. In addition, as this would constitute a termination classified as severe misconduct, employers would not have to pay any compensation to the terminated employee either,” Heng said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen banned the traditional celebrations on Tuesday last week, stating, “The government decided to cancel the celebrations of the Khmer New Year as a measure to prevent people from contracting the [COVID-19] virus as the safest places are at working places”.
He also added that everybody should continue to work as usual and the cancelled holidays will be offset when the health threat caused by the pandemic is over.￼