The Ministry of Labour is reviewing the laws governing short-term contracts with a view to improve terms and conditions and reduce worker exploitation.
This follows calls by the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), which claims that short-term contracts fail to benefit Cambodian workers who are deprived of job security and proper benefits when their employment is terminated.
Speaking to The Post, CUMW president Pav Sina said short-term contracts are usually for a duration of three months, but six-month contracts are becoming more common.
“While the Ministry of Labour does not specify the duration of short-term contracts, it stipulates that no such contract can exceed two years.
“However, employers themselves use three months as the norm for short-term contracts. The CUMW believes this is illegal as labour laws specify that the probation period for an employee is two months.
“Hence, any worker who is employed for more than two months is automatically a regular employee in our view. But the factories do not treat them as such,” he said.
Sina said short-term contracts significantly impact workers’ rights to the extent that they are even unable to form unions or join existing ones to represent their interests and concerns.
“Factory owners, for instance, exploit loopholes governing short-term contracts to dismiss workers whose employment expires. This is wrong, and we are happy that the Ministry of Labour is now looking into the matter,” he said.
Sina said workers who argued with their managers and those who got pregnant during their employment have had their contracts terminated as well.
“All these short-term contract workers, no matter what the circumstances of their termination, are just given very low compensation in lieu of losing their jobs. This is what we mean by exploitation . . . It is just wrong,” he said.
Short-term contract workers, Sina says, also do not receive any annual seniority bonuses as factory owners do not feel they need to make such payments.
For example, he says permanent employees receive an additional $2 a month after one year of service, and in the second year the figure is upped to $3. But short-term contract workers are denied such benefits.
On why long-term or permanent contracts are not offered to workers, Sina said this also goes to show the broader context of exploitation.
“The fact is, it is more difficult to terminate permanent workers or someone with a long-term contract. So to get around such difficulties, short-term contracts are the preferred choice of employment,” he said.
In terms of compensation, Sina said permanent workers and those on long-term contracts will have to be paid higher compensation.
Workers who are dismissed without due cause, for instance, are entitled to far higher compensation in accordance with labour laws.
This, Sina said, is another factor deterring employers from hiring permanent workers and those on long-term contracts. Also, such employees have a propensity to form unions – something employers believe is detrimental to their business interests. Furthermore, employment costs, including bonuses and benefits, increase as permanent workers gain seniority over the years.
Sina also said there have been cases where permanent workers who had been employed in a factory for many years were left high and dry when their employers shuttered the plant and “disappeared”.
“These workers found it very difficult to trace their employers and obtain due compensation in line with labour laws.
“Just imagine, you have, say, 1,000 workers who have been employed for between eight and 10 years. The compensation
payout according to labour laws can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And this is what employers want to avoid . . . so they disappear,” he said.