Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fear keeps workers at home

Fear keeps workers at home

Garment factory workers from Prey Veng province return to Phnom Penh yesterday. The employees took a day away from work to vote in their hometowns.
Garment factory workers from Prey Veng province return to Phnom Penh yesterday. The employees took a day away from work to vote in their hometowns. PHA LINA

Fear keeps workers at home

When the garment factory that employs her opened its doors yesterday for the first time since Sunday’s election, Chan Neoun was about 130 kilometres away, at home in Svay Rieng province.

“I did not go to work because my father did not allow me come to Phnom Penh,” said Neoun, 25, who works at Orange Trading Co in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. “His neighbour told him that there were a lot of police and soldiers standing guard in Phnom Penh and some main roads were blocked.”

Intense rioting and a military crackdown were just some of the rumours flying around on Sunday as Cambodia waited for election results to come in.

Word of civil unrest, most of it exaggerated except for isolated protests, reached many of Phnom Penh’s garment workers who had travelled home to cast ballots. A lot of them opted to miss work rather than risk walking into a dangerous situation.

Despite a Ministry of Labour decree giving travelling workers Monday off, the logistics of getting back and a fear of instability kept many workers from returning on time yesterday.

Injae Garment Co’s workforce was missing about 20 per cent of its staff when it opened yesterday, said owner Nam-Shik Kang. On holidays like Khmer New Year and the Water Festival, less than 15 per cent typically come back late, he added.

The level of missing workers at Injae yesterday, which amounted to about 400 people, would reduce production by half each day, Kang said. He hoped his full staff would return by the end of the week.

For Sophary, a 32-year-old Orange Trading employee who declined to give her full name, fear of a delayed pay cheque outweighed fear of chaos.

“I am also scared and worried about the security in Phnom Penh,” said Sophary, who added that when she returned to work from Svay Rieng by taxi yesterday, half the workers were absent. “But I have to come to work because my salary will be cut.”

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, also attributed the high level of garment worker absences to fears of election-related violence.

“They heard news about Phnom Penh, that there are soldiers and police blocking the road,” Chhun said.

Ken Loo, the secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the level of absenteeism happens after any extended holiday weekend. He guessed the majority of workers who missed their shifts yesterday were simply unable to secure transportation.

“I wouldn’t say [factory owners are] used to this, but they expect it to happen,” Loo said. “If they come back within the next two days, then it will just be normal.”

Although the garment industry is Cambodia’s largest, the post-election worker absences won’t cut into the overall economy, said Hiroshi Suzuki, chief executive of the Business Research Institute for Cambodia.

“Cambodia has 26 holidays in addition to 52 Sundays,” Suzuki said in an email. “I do not envision any serious impact by this delay to the Cambodian economy."

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL DE CARTERET

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh curfew starts today

    A two-week curfew from 8pm to 5am starts today in Phnom Penh, a day after a sub-decree detailing administrative measures to contain Covid-19 was issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Travelling in Phnom Penh is temporally banned between 8pm and 5am,” said Phnom Penh governor

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants