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Savagely battered Cambodia’s garment industry seeks urgent help to stay alive

Garment workers and the sector as a whole needs an urgent lifeline. KT/ Khem Sovanara

Cambodia’s garment industry had issued a renewed plea for help amidst new statistics revealing that more than 150,000 workers have now lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Factory owners and trade unions both called on the government, and other agencies, to do more to support the industry and former garment workers who were facing abject poverty.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) warned that the situation was still not improving, despite lockdown easing in western countries, with “scores more factories and tens of thousands of additional workers at imminent risk”.

So far around 400 factories have closed down, permanently or temporarily, in Cambodia meaning that 15 per cent of the country’s garment workers are currently out of work.

In April, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the government would pay US$40 per month to garment workers whose employers had registered their companies’ suspension with the Labour Ministry. Employers were asked to pay workers another US$30 per month.

However, many of the affected workers have still not received any money. The Labour Ministry last week said it was currently processing payments for 30,189 workers from nearly 100 factories.

The Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) urged the Prime Minister to intervene and provide money to workers more quickly to provide them with desperately needed financial support.

In an open letter, CCU claimed that workers had only received US$20 from the government after their work was suspended for more than two months.

“CCU asks the government to pay the full amount of money to workers in order to make it easy for them to spend on relieving debts and their livelihoods,” said the letter, signed by CCU president Rong Chhun.

Ouk Chanthou, head of the Labour Ministry’s inspection department, said officials needed to see full details and ID cards of affected workers, and confirmation they had been laid off, before it could authorise payment through electronic money transfer firm Wing.

The World Bank in May projected that Cambodia will experience negative growth this year for the first time since 1994 due to economic losses during the pandemic.

The GMAC has asked for annual minimum wage negotiations to be suspended to relieve pressures on factory owners, although this is opposed by trade unions.

“Delaying the minimum wage negotiations will be a mechanism to support the sector to stay alive as well as maintain employment for workers,” GMAC said in a letter to the Labour Ministry.

The GMAC is also asking the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and European brands to support its call for the European Commission to postpone for one year its decision to partially withdraw Cambodia’s ‘Everything but Arms’ (EBA) trade privileges to allow the industry time to recover from the economic downturn. Source – Eco Textile

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