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Industrial sector begs for Covid pandemic reprieve

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Industrial sector staff, workers and other employees have the freedom to find a proper place to eat after work, says an official of the Kingdom’s garment trade body. Hong Menea

Industrial sector begs for Covid pandemic reprieve

Industry sector representatives and international business chambers in Cambodia have urged the government to take steps to mitigate some of the consequences of Covid-19 control measures felt at factories and manufacturing enterprises.

Fallout from efforts to contain the novel coronavirus have placed a tremendous strain on production and put an unfair burden on employers in financial distress triggered by the pandemic, they said.

In a June 15 letter, the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration highlighted the urgency of the virus’ spread throughout the capital’s industrial businesses, which it said was fuelled by, among other things, communal living arrangements, collective transportation, congregation at haphazard food stalls, and non-compliance with Ministry of Health guidelines related to Covid-19.

“The launch of the Action Plan on Measures to Control Covid-19 at Factories and Enterprises in Phnom Penh aims to ensure the welfare, safety and livelihood of staff, workers and other employees as well as production sustainability of factories and enterprises in Phnom Penh, through the determination of necessary measures,” read the letter, signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) secretary-general Ken Loo told The Post that GMAC expresses appreciation for the ad-hoc and medium- and long-term measures to control the spread of transmission across the capital’s factories and manufacturing enterprises.

However, some of the procedures outlined in the plan are beyond these industrial businesses’ technical abilities to ensure their effective implementation, he said.

He noted that Point B5 poses the first challenge – allocating locations as potential coronavirus test sites, quarantine areas or light Covid-19 treatment centres.

“Most factories or enterprises do not have suitable locations to properly implement quarantine measures or light Covid-19 treatment in accordance with the government’s health measures,” Loo said.

These businesses cannot provide the day-to-day accommodation, food and other supporting services for workers or employees in quarantine or receiving light treatment for the disease, he stressed, while suggesting that a sizeable portion would rather self-quarantine at home.

“Factories also cannot bear the full expense of quarantine and light patient treatments, in addition to the burden of worker and employee salaries where there is no production,” Loo added.

Point B9 bars slapdash food, beverage and other such stalls from selling inside and nearby the compounds of factories or manufacturing enterprises, he said, citing the municipal administration’s letter.

Employers have no right, power or legal authority to outright ban people from selling foods, beverages, groceries or other goods around their businesses, he said.

Point B10 bars staff, workers and other employees to leave the premises to eat, he said, adding that employers have no right or legal power to ban people from going out to eat either, pointing out that employees have the freedom to find a proper place to eat after work.

“To ease this burden and ensure sustainability of production at factories and enterprises for export – in support of the Cambodian economy – GMAC would like to request the ministers of economy and finance; health; and labour and vocational training, as well as the Phnom Penh governor to kindly help ensure the continuation of the government’s policy on expenses covering Covid-19 tests, quarantine and treatment – to be borne by the government in order to mitigate some of the measures mentioned,” Loo stressed.

Cambodia Footwear Association president Ly Kunthai echoed Loo’s concerns over repercussions for the industrial sector stemming from Covid prevention measures.

“We do appreciate the strict measures to combat Covid-19. However, the measures place an additional layer of burden on us and would undermine production if applied,” he said. “[Still], we do hope that the government and the Phnom Penh municipal governor will help relax some of these measures for us.”

European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia advocacy manager Noe Schellinck told The Post that the trade body’s members were discussing the measures, but that further details were needed to successfully carry out the action plan.

“There are many practical questions and concerns that would need to be resolved. We wish the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration had arranged prior consultations with stakeholders in the private sector, to iron out their concerns around the measures in advance,” he said.

American Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia president Anthony Galliano told The Post that the measures to contain and mitigate the spread of Covid-19 have always been and will continue to be a fine and complex balance of ensuring the health and safety of the population and its workforce, and maintaining economic stability and growth.

“Hopefully these new regulations will not deter investment in the sector, as we live in a new world with greater concern of health and safety of workers,” he said.

As of March 31, there were 746 factories and 4,985 small-scale and cottage industries registered in Phnom Penh, creating 476,359 direct jobs and tens of thousands more indirect jobs, the administration’s letter said, adding that the Cambodian Investment Board had logged 34 new factories in the capital during January-March.

“Despite the circumstances surrounding Covid-19, the business and production of almost all factories and enterprises are still running as normal, and only a few have suspended operations,” the letter read.

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