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Over 100,000 hit by factory suspension

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Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour is speaking during a press conference on Tuesday. Heng Chivoan

Over 100,000 hit by factory suspension

Over 130 garment and footwear factories have filed for operational suspension since January, affecting some 100,000 workers, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training said.

Speaking during a press conference on Tuesday, its spokesperson Heng Sour said the proposed suspension comes as Covid-19 continues to paralyse global trade and economies.

He said the factories had intended to shut down completely but eventually opted to suspend operations after the government exempted them from taxes and delayed payment of a fixed levy for the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

“The government has taken a series of measures to maintain jobs and income for workers whose factories have suspended operations.

“They actually wanted to close. But through a series of discussions, the government encouraged them to just suspend work. That way, workers would not have to lose their jobs forever,” he said.

Sour said the government had offered suspended workers $40 a month in addition to what is provided by their factories.

In the first three months of this year, he said exports of Cambodian garments declined 20 per cent compared to the same period last year. He said this was after the European market pressed the pause button on imports as the bloc grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Despite this, he said buyers had honoured their contracts by paying for already-produced garment products, though they have not placed new orders for April, May and June.

“Our exports have and will be affected, especially in the second quarter [of this year]. Exports can decline by 50 per cent compared to last year,” he said.

On the positive side, 77 new factories have launched operations in the Kingdom in the first quarter of this year and are expected to generate 27,909 new jobs.

Over the same period, the total number of factories registering with the Ministry of Industry, Science, Technology and Innovation has reached 1,801, accounting for 1,063,031 jobs.

The ministry’s secretary of state Heng Sokkong last week attributed the growth to the government’s “attractively open policies” and sufficient supply of raw materials despite the pandemic.

Sour said the Kingdom’s garment sector will revive if the Covid-19 situation in Europe begins to subside in June. Should it persist, he said the government will prepare training for workers to turn to other industrial jobs.

Asked if the absence of workers who took time off during Khmer New Year and have not been allowed back at work will affect factory operations, Sour said the impact will be minor as 95 per cent of them showed up during the holidays.

Of the more than 10,000 workers in Phnom Penh who were absent from work, he said over 5,000 had been cleared of Covid-19 and will return to work after their 14-day self-quarantine.

Sour pointed out that the ministry could not provide an exact figure for the workers who have not returned as they have done so for various reasons.

He said some workers may have been stopped by their parents from returning to avoid virus transmission, while others have turned to agricultural work as the rainy reason is approaching.

“The figures are conflicting for various reasons. You [journalists] ask whether or not we will continue checking workers’ health regularly, but we don’t even know if they will return. In any case, the Ministry of Health has mechanisms in place [to detect Covid-19],” he said.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on Tuesday called for ASEAN member states and companies in the region to protect workers’ rights to healthy and safe conditions amid the pandemic.

Chamnan Chanruang, a former Thai Member of Parliament (MP) APHR member said: “Every day, millions of workers in Southeast Asia are going to work so that our countries keep running, but many are being forced to do so in dangerous conditions that put them at risk of contracting or spreading the virus.

“ASEAN governments must work with employers across all sectors to immediately step up action to make sure that everyone’s right to healthy and safe conditions at work is respected. If these workers are not protected, no one is.”

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