Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Friday that he will make weekly visits to garment factories across the country to better understand the demands and needs of workers, in what some observers said could be an attempt to appeal to potential voters before next July’s national elections.
A note released after a Council of Ministers meeting on Friday said the premier would start his visits August 20 and would attempt to meet workers every Sunday at garment factories as his schedule permitted.
“When he goes down and meets people he always provides solutions as requested by the people,” said Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan.
The garment industry in the Kingdom employs nearly 1 million workers.
Independent unions have had a contentious relationship with the government when it comes to working conditions, human rights and the minimum wage.
Nonetheless, the monthly minimum wage for garment workers has risen each year, and is currently at $153. The premier’s factory visit announcement comes a few months before the start of tripartite negotiations that will see the government, unions and employer associations voting on how much to increase the wage.
According to Siphan, the visits are not necessarily election-related. He pointed to former United States President Barack Obama’s regular meetings with American citizens.
While garment workers don’t work on Sundays, Som Aun, the president of the CPP-aligned Cambodian Labour Union Federation, said workers would still come to meet the prime minister and express their concerns directly to him.
“It’s good that they meet on Sunday because it will not affect their work,” he said.
Unionist Ath Thorn, however, was more sceptical about the premier’s visits, saying that he had shown little concern for workers in the past.
“We never saw the prime minister so interested in the workers before. It is only now near the elections that he is planning to go into the factories,” he said.
He said if the premier was to visit the factories then he should meet workers from independent unions in order to understand issues such as wages, faintings and working conditions, and not only speak to factory officials.
Political analyst Cham Bunteth said he hoped that Hun Sen’s visits were more than mere politicking ahead of a crucial national election.
“He should do it consistently and not just a few months or a year before the elections,” he said.