Unions and labour groups fear a solitary sick day could cost garment workers their entire month’s attendance bonuses – about 15 per cent of their base wage – under a new scheme meant to make life easier.
The Kingdom’s 600,000 garment and footwear workers will receive a US$3 increase in their attendance bonus beginning this month, taking those payments to $10 a month, following a promise the Ministry of Labour made on July 11.
But unions and rights groups, including the Cambodian Labour Confederation, the Community Legal Education Center and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, believe a document the ministry and its Labour Advisory Council released on July 25 contains ambiguous wording that could be used to strip bonuses from employees who miss work due to illness.
ACILS country manager Dave Welsh said the document had effectively rewritten what the ministry had offered a fortnight earlier, when it also promised workers a $7 monthly transport or accommodation allowance.
“The subsequent notification . . . states that workers who come to work every day of each month without absence shall receive a $10 attendance bonus,” he said. “It sounds reasonable – except that it doesn’t factor in any sick days, it doesn’t factor in any special emergency days . . . it doesn’t factor in maternity or other health-related issues.”
The organisations had written to the ministry requesting clarification – and a scheduled LAC meeting with unions today could be a good opportunity for officials to provide that clarification, Welsh said.
“Our take is that if you attend 21 days and have pneumonia or a heart attack one day and are back to work the next, you shouldn’t miss your attendance bonus,” he said.
Welsh said the Arbitration Council had set a precedent by ruling on types of approved leave it believed should not affect workers’ attendance bonuses.
“If they’re sick with documents . . . and are otherwise attending work entirely, they shouldn’t be punished,” he said.
According to Moeun Tola, the head of CLEC’s labour program, many garment workers have previously been docked a percentage of their bonus for each sick day taken rather than being denied the whole $7.
“The Arbitrational Council has said any reduction should be proportional,” he said.
“If a worker is absent for one day, the $10 should be divided by 26 – the number of days they work in a month.
“The new point is that . . . the deduction would be the whole bonus.”
Both Tola and CLC president Ath Thorn were concerned the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia had pressured the LAC to toughen conditions in the days after the July 11 announcement.
GMAC secretary Ken Loo, however, said his organisation had not put pressure on the government.
“That has been the state of the law from the beginning,” he said. “It’s just that the Arbitration Council chose to begin interpreting it differently.”
When it came to illness, Loo said, many factories had their own agreements.
“We understand people are not robots,” he said. “They do get sick. Some [factories] have chosen X number of days that workers can take off where there are no deductions. [In] other factories, a worker might lose the attendance bonus for a week, not a month, if they do not come to work.”
LAC deputy director Chuon Momthol said workers who were sick and could provide a valid health certificate would not have their bonuses cut.
“The main purpose of an attendance bonus is to encourage workers to come to work, because we know that some do not want to,” he said, adding that sick workers had not been LAC’s focus in July.