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A worker irons clothing at a factory in Phnom Penh
A worker irons clothing at a factory in Phnom Penh in June. Many garment workers have not returned to work after casting their votes during last month’s elections. PHA LINA

Factory production sluggish

In the wake of last month’s election, production levels at Cambodian garment factories are still below the norm as lingering fears of political unrest keep workers at home and away from the capital.

Shrugged off at the outset as a natural byproduct of the election that would correct in time, the stay-away workers are beginning to make factory owners reluctant to accept orders, according to Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC).

“When they [factory owners] accept the order from a buyer, they need to be sure they can supply the goods on time,” Thorn said. “Absentee workers are interrupting production lines, which is a concern for the factory owners. That is why some have decided to suspend their supply capacity temporarily.”

Thorn said that more than 10 per cent of workers remained absent.

“I was informed that workers are suggesting to draw their salary in advance as they are preparing to go back home during the uncertainty,” he said.

With the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party disputing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party victory in the July 28 poll, and with warnings of protests and the presence of military vehicles in Phnom Penh, a tense mood has prevailed.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he was still assessing the situation, but had not had any specific reports about jittery factory owners.

Loo, though, was still concerned that workers would head out of the city if an atmosphere of fright persisted.

“We are of course worried, but it is up to the workers not to listen to rumours, and they can decide for themselves whether there is unrest in Phnom Penh or not, or whether it is just rumours going around,” he said.

After missing about 20 per cent of staff, or 400 workers, when it opened its doors on the Tuesday after the election, Injae Garment Co said things were slowly returning to normal.

“Our first factory at Toul Kork has no problem at all, and at the second new factory about 50 workers at Takhmao [were] absent after being paid their salary last week,” said Injae owner Nam-Shik Kang.

Kang said it had not affected any of his orders, but made the point that buyers, not just local manufactuers, “seriously keep watching the recent Cambodia political situation”.

Both the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) and the government last week urged workers to return to work.

“According to the situation, nobody can tell what’s going to happen [politically], but we estimate it’s not going to be too serious,” said Kong Athit, C.CAWDU’s vice-president.

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