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Garment workers call in to hotline to ask questions

Cambodian garment workers are slowly embracing a dial-in hotline created by United Nations-backed monitor Better Factories Cambodia that aims to be an information source on labour rights, a report released yesterday shows.

Named Kamako Chhnoeum in Khmer, which translates to “Outstanding Worker”, the automated hotline, launched two months ago and answers questions in three areas: wages, occupational health and safety. Workers get the information, while BFC is able to collect data on the extent to which the garment sector employees understand their rights. The hotline can be reached by dialing 8397, but is only free on Smart and Cellcard networks. It also takes anonymous voicemail messages.

Jill Tucker, BFC’s chief technical adviser, said the technology allows the monitor to reach a much larger number of workers than traditional face-to-face training, as “every worker has a mobile phone”.

“This is obviously not as in-depth as all-day training, but we can get information out on a regular basis, and more than that, we can find out what workers know and what they don’t know,” she said.

In 2011, BFC delivered labour rights and safety training to about 2,500 workers, a number Tucker says is “just not sufficient” when there is an estimated 450,000 countrywide.

Some 3,245 garment and footwear workers dialed in to Kamako Chhnoeum from its launch on September 1 to October 28. While Tucker was happy with the initial intake, she expects much more in the near future as BFC steps up publicity to include radio advertising, wallet-sized calendars and posters in industrial areas.

Early insights show that 76 per cent of workers understand their full maternity-leave entitlements, while 37 per cent of workers incorrectly answered that having two emergency drills per year was a waste of time.

Workers contacted yesterday were not yet aware of the service, but said they would use it.

Nith Reaskmey, a garment worker at USA Fully Field (Cambodia) Garment factory who had spoken to ILO representatives before, but only face to face, welcomed the new program.

“It is important, it helps workers to get their voice out wider,” she said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodia Federation of Unions, said educating workers on labour laws helps strengthen their position in times of dispute.

This is not the first digital initiative from BFC, which launched a smartphone application in September targeting factory management, NGOs and union officials.

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