Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday continued his bid to woo the Kingdom’s thousands-strong bloc of garment workers, reminding workers of the perils of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s proposal to leverage an EU embargo on garment imports to improve the country’s political and human rights environment.
The premier has for the last two weeks met with factory employees and workers, doling out populist benefits in what many consider to be a campaign to garner support for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party among a voter base long considered to side with the opposition. Recent talking points have included free bus rides in Phnom Penh, free health insurance, higher maternity pay and a monthly minimum wage of at least $160 for 2018.
While the premier suggested a $168 minimum wage on his Facebook page – a $15 increase from the current $153 – he has since stuck to referring to a figure of “at least $160” in his speeches to workers.
Yesterday, Hun Sen reminded workers that a “traitor” had suggested that investors stay away from the country and refrain from buying garments from the Kingdom – a critical sector for the economy – a thinly-veiled reference to a suggestion made by self-exiled former opposition leader Sam Rainsy last year.
“This is a traitor person, who wants to destroy the benefits of his own people,” the premier said, speaking to workers at Vattanac Industrial Park.
He then took aim at the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – which he called the “three don’ts” party for its admonishments not to donate, invest or buy from Cambodia – accusing it of using workers to bolster its post-election demonstrations in 2013, and asking workers to remember who had in fact worked for them.
“All wage increases and other benefits did not come from the other group. It came from workers like yourself, employers and the CPP government ruling the country’’ he said.
Neither Rainsy nor CNRP representatives Yi Sovann, Yem Ponhearith or Eng Chhay Eang could be reached yesterday.
Hun Sen yesterday also announced a nine-year tax exemption for garment factories, with Ken Loo, spokesman for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, saying that while a similar tax window already existed in the investment law, garment factories only received three to four years’ tax exemption.
But if the nine-year tax window were to extend retroactively and for new investments that would be “excellent news”, he added. “The wages have to go up, but it is important he is aware of the challenges and the government is helping enterprises reduce costs.”
Even as the premier was touting his contributions to the sector, 64 workers at H&M supplier Berry Apparel in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district fainted yesterday morning, with Free Trade Union member Seng Sinuon saying one worker fainted because of low blood sugar, causing the others to collapse upon seeing her fall.
While Berry Apparel representatives could not be reached, H&M Global Press Officer Ulrica Bogh-Lind said their local team was monitoring the situation and taking the incident “very seriously”.
“The factory management are working with a team from the NSSF at the factory to identify the cause of this incident.”