Prime Minister Hun Sen held forth to some 17,000 workers at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone yesterday, reiterating promises of new benefits, publicising increases in maternity leave allowances – and warning against a repeat of nationwide strikes that followed the contentious 2013 national election.
Continuing his weekly efforts to court the Kingdom’s roughly 700,000 garment workers, the premier played up recent vows to provide free health care, public transport and a higher minimum wage for the sector.
He also pointed to three-month maternity leave entitlements for women equal to 120 percent of their salary, set to begin this month. The maternity leave pay, according to unionist and National Social Security Fund board member Ath Thorn, comprises a 50 percent contribution by employers and a 70 percent allowance from the NSSF, and was mandated in October last year.
However, Hun Sen also punctuated his nearly two-hour speech with jabs at political opponents, casting the opposition as a threat to workers.
“There are two groups,” he said, referring to his Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
“One proposes three don’ts: one, don’t fund or donate to Cambodia; two, don’t invest in Cambodia; and three, don’t buy goods or products in Cambodia,” he said, in an apparent reference to the opposition. “But our three requests are the opposite of that.”
Hun Sen said the CPP’s “three requests” – funding, investment and trade – would form its policy should it hold on to power in next year’s election. He also repeated his pledge to increase the current $153 minimum wage, though yesterday’s declaration of “not less than $160” appeared less committal than the $168 increase published on his Facebook page on Sunday.
The premier went on to add that he would not tolerate a repeat of 2013, when nationwide labour strikes coincided with rolling protests by the CNRP against the election result. The twin protest movements culminated in a mass security crackdown, in which at least five striking workers in Phnom Penh were killed and dozens injured in January 2014.
“I’ll talk to the UN, and the people who lead the protest, the government should arrest them. The protest is never happening again; I won’t let the story of 2013 happen again.”
Phal Sophea, a pregnant garment worker at a factory supplying H&M, said that she was unimpressed by what she characterised as the premier’s politicised pronouncements, noting she was already aware of the maternity leave entitlements.
“I think that the prime minister just takes advantage to present it like he’s giving it, but it is already offered by the NSSF,” Sophea said. “It’s not good; it makes people confused, and they think that it comes from him.”