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Jobless garment workers struggle to make ends meet

Sen David / Khmer Times Share:
Chan Ny, centre, sits on a mat with other workers outside their factory gate. KT/ Chor Sokunthea

The coronavirus spread in Europe and the US has resulted in declining orders for Cambodian garment and footwear products, causing factories to suspend or close operations and creating hardship for workers.

With many garment factories suspending production following falling overseas orders caused by the COVID-19 spread, some workers have voiced out difficulties they face in making ends meet.

The Labour Ministry has announced that 237 factories in the Kingdom have suspended operations and 110,000 workers have lost jobs.

Chan Ny, a worker at International Fashion Royal Co Ltd in the capital’s Por Senchey district, says her factory suspended operations in April but resumed early this month.

She says last week, the company informed workers, it could not afford to keep operating over lack of orders and therefore could not pay wages.

Ms Ny adds 937 workers have been laid off and the company said it would sell its machinery to pay wages owed to the workers for March, suspension benefits for April and severance pay following its closure.

She says some workers have worked with the company for nearly 10 years and depended on the job to provide for their families, including buying food and paying for their children’s school fees, water and electricity bills, rentals and other expenditure.

“In these difficult times, we still must spend for house rentals, water, electricity, food and raising our children,” Ms Ny says. “We are jobless now and are waiting for the company to pay our wages and compensation.”

Sok Chhoeun, another worker, likewise says most of the workers have been with the company for almost a decade and now they have lost their jobs due to the virus.

“We worked with the company for many years and received our monthly wages regularly on time,” she says. “But now it is facing a financial crisis due to COVID-19.”

Bo Thet, a workers’ representative, says the workers are now sitting and sleeping in front of the factory’s gates daily to guard the company’s machinery.

“We are waiting for a solution from the Ministry of Labour to sell the company’s machinery,” he says. “The workers depend on the sales of these equipment to get their owed wages and compensation.”

A worker from another factory, who declined to be identified or name the company, says she spends $40 to rent a room at a house in the capital’s Russey Keo district’s Tuol Sangke commune.

She says she shares the room with a friend and since February, the house owner has agreed to reduce the rent by 20 percent.

The worker says her company suspended operations in March and April and resumed production this month.

“For March and April, the suspended workers went back to their home provinces but now they have returned to Phnom Penh to resume work,” she says. “However, there is less work than before and there is not much overtime for us to earn extra.”

Factory workers go for their lunch break in the capital’s Canadia Industrial Park. KT/ Chor Sokunthea

Ministry of Labor spokesman Heng Sour says that until now 237 garment factories had applied to suspend operations, affecting 110,000 garment workers.

He says the reason why they are stopping operations is because of lack of orders from European and US buyers due to the virus crisis.

Mr Sour says the government has announced that workers who are suspended will receive special social benefits of $70 per month each, of which $40 will be paid by the government and $30 by the companies.

“We are now collecting the details of 56,000 workers who qualify for the benefits they will be paid via Wing money transfer,” Mr Sour adds.

Ken Loo, secretary general of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, says although the virus situation is improving in Cambodia, it

is still affecting buyers in Europe and the US and causing factories in the Kingdom to suspend operations or shut down.

He says that every week, more and more factories are applying to suspend operations or shut down “Up till now, we are facing more difficulties and factories are suspending production or shutting down because the situation in Europe and the US not yet better,” Mr Loo says. “Even though the virus situation in Cambodian is better, our main markets are abroad, especially in Europe and the US.”

Last week, the Ministry of Economy and Finance approved a request GMAC for garment factories to produce all kinds of face masks, medical equipment and protective clothing for both domestic consumption and export.

The government supports the effort because the masks, medical equipment, and protective clothing are sought after by the world to help curb COVID-19.

According to a Labour Ministry report, this year’s first-quarter exports nosedived by 80 percent year-on-year when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in the EU and US, the two largest markets of Cambodian garment products in February.

It said the export of garment and footwear is forecast to drop by 50 to 60 percent in the second quarter of this year due to the pandemic’s impact.

Last year, Cambodian garments, footwear and travel goods exports were valued at $9.35 billion, representing a year-on-year increase of 11 percent, according to a report from the Ministry of Industry and Handicraft.

Workers Friendship Union Federation president Sieng Sambath says some workers are now facing difficulty in making ends meet with some waiting to get paid and others having no work due to job suspensions.

He says that the workers need income from jobs to spend on food, children’s education, water and electricity fees, house rentals and other expenses.

“Losing jobs is difficult for workers who need a salary to make ends meet,” Mr Sambath adds.

National Trade Union Confederation president Far Saly says some workers who are suspended from work are returning to their home provinces to help out at their parents’ farms.

“If they get suspended from their jobs in Phnom Penh, some of them find other work while others go back to their home provinces to help their parents out,” he adds.

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