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Concern for young workers

A 16-year-old garment factory worker takes a break before the evening overtime shift, outside a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district last year.

A union leader has raised concerns that more than 100,000 garment workers under the age of 18 are being paid below the industry’s minimum wage, with many under-15s suspected of being forced to work full-time hours and overtime illegally.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodian Workers, said yesterday that the union had carried out a month-long survey of 370,000 garment workers that revealed about 30 percent of them were under 18 and forced to work in conditions that violated Cambodia’s  labour law.

“At first, they did not want to tell us the truth about their age because they were afraid of losing their jobs, but when we explained and convinced them [it was safe], then they told us that they were not old enough to work [in those conditions] yet,” he said.

An unofficial translation of the Cambodian labour law stipulates that children aged between 12 and 15 years of age can engage in light work provided it is not hazardous to their health and they have gained parental consent.

The minimum wage for garment workers in Cambodia is US$61 per month, but Chea Mony said some factories had deliberately employed young workers because it was easy to pay them below that benchmark without resistance.

The surveyed employees, many of whom were under the legal full-time working age of 15, told researchers they had been forced to falsify their personal biographies to increase their ages, he said.

He identified offending factories as O’Rieng Ov Textile Industry factory in Kampong Cham province, Svay Antor factory in Prey Veng province and numerous unnamed factories in the provinces of Kandal, Kampong Speu and the capital, Phnom Penh. Representatives of those factories, could not be reached yesterday.

Phouk Chandy, a worker who was fired last month after she told local press outlets that the O’Rieng Ov textile factory employed about 50 underage workers in illegal conditions, said yesterday children were being forced to work to the point where they became dizzy and started vomiting.  

“Those children have to work the same hours and the same jobs as the older people, they have to work eight hours a day and two more hours for overtime,” she said. Cheng Heang, provincial director of the Kampong Cham Labour Department, said he had personally inspected the O’Rieng Ov Textile Industry factory and found no evidence of abuse.

“I went to inspect and there were some young people who looked small, but they were over 18 years old,” he said.

Om Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, denied widespread abuses of the labour law’s provisions on minimum age and said strict enforcement had resulted in a near total elimination of illegal young workers .



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