Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Wednesday that public holidays in Cambodia could be reduced in revisions made to the working calendar as a part of “huge reforms” to be announced on Friday.
Speaking at a National Institute of Education graduation ceremony for nearly 2,000 graduate students wanting to be teachers, Hun Sen said Cambodia was a poor country but had more public holidays than “rich countries”.
“Singapore has only 11 public holidays, while Cambodia has from 28 to 30 public holidays. Our country is poor, but we have many public holidays. Therefore, I would like to have your understanding."
“If we don’t do this, all businesses would run away from us because [employees] keep demanding salary increases and more holidays. So next year public holidays could be reduced,” he said.
He suggested that the number of days off could remain the same but with people required to work on certain public holidays, with Khmer New Year or Pchum Ben made longer to compensate.
The issue would be discussed with the private sector, he said.
Hun Sen said he was to announce a huge package of reforms on Friday to ease business concerns in the Kingdom as the EU continues with the reviewing and monitoring process as part of a possible withdrawal of Cambodia’s access to its “Everything But Arms” scheme.
“We must think about our workforce when developing our country without having to attach ourselves to deals with whoever. We must not let our country suffer from their insults and concerns,” he said.
He said he would spend up to two and a half hours announcing the reforms.
He gave one example of reducing the time spent examining containers exporting products out of Cambodia, only doing so for suspicious cargoes. He said this would help reduce jams at ports and borders.
“Don’t let them say that ‘I give you this, you must follow me. If you are disobedient, I cut it’. Stop speaking this language. In the past, Cambodia has suffered more than this. Cambodia was surrounded by economic and political embargoes, but it survived."
“Cambodia at that time was led by Hun Sen, and now Hun Sen still leads this country. Hun Sen has led the economy [of this country] to be vivid, with economic growth of 7.5 per cent,” he said.
US-based political analyst Sok Sakoun said reducing public holidays would be a good move. He explained that in the US, it was not required for workers to be paid on federally declared days off.
Employers let staff have days off, but the law did not require them to be paid, and that paid holidays and days off in the US were incentives.
“The only argument for the number of public holidays is that Cambodian employees do not have vacations,” he said.
Ou Virak, the executive director of the Future Forum think tank, said Cambodia had far too many public holidays but also a very long working week – six days or 48 hours a week.
He said Cambodia should start following international practice by reducing the working week to five days or 40 hours and reduce public holidays to a more reasonable number.
“I support a flexible work schedule – let the employees and employers decide, instead of it being set by the government. One simple example is the Chinese New Year. Often, people decide what holidays they want to take, not what is imposed on them by the government,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said some long Cambodian holidays should be reduced while some important holidays should be kept.
“However, any new working days should be incorporated into workers’ annual leave with pay. It’s utterly unethical to make the innocent important earners of foreign exchange lose out and pay the cost of the rationalisation of public holidays,” he said.