Prime Minister Hun Sen announced changes in the allowances for temporarily laid-off garment workers from receiving 60 per cent of the minimum wage to a flat $70 because factories cannot pay, he said.
Workers will also not be required to attend training courses after more than 100 factories announced temporary closures.
In February, the government decided that factory employers would be required to pay 40 per cent of the wages, while the government would provide the other 20 per cent of the $190 minimum wage.
The workers would receive $114 but they had an obligation to attend skills training organised by the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training.
The prime minister said at a press conference at the Peace Palace on Tuesday that the government had decided that employers would pay only $30 and the government would pay $40 instead. He said doing so was a humanitarian act.
“Factory owners have no ability. So now the state will release $40 while factory employers pay $30. A worker obtains a benefit of $70. Earlier, they thought they would receive more than $100. But the factories are unable to do so and cannot be forced to do so,” Hun Sen said.
He said because the changes lowered their allowances, the workers were not required to fulfil the obligation to attend the course as previously defined.
“Because the problem happened in this way, a worker will obtain only $70. But workers are not required to be trained as before, he said, adding that the training facilities were being closed.
As of April 6, the prime minister announced that more than 100 garment factories had temporarily closed down across the Kingdom due to a lack of raw materials and the fact that buyers had not placed orders on goods.
“If this continues, our workers will lose their jobs. Our choices are different from the European Community. Since the beginning, their ancestors have all been workers, while workers in our country have not yet detached from being farmers.
“Our workers are still connected with their parents. Therefore, we will help those who lost jobs in the industrial sector and in turn they will return to join the labour force in the agricultural sector,” he said.
In doing so, Hun Sen said it is the long-term proposition for Cambodia because the Kingdom does not have adequate resources to give workers money forever.
He said during the current slowdown, Cambodia had to do whatever it takes for workers to return to agricultural occupations.
Mai Chan, a worker at 7NG who was suspended from work two months ago, told The Post on Tuesday that he could not get by on 60 per cent of allowances to pay for his family and the bank, so how will he survive on only $70?
“Previously, I looked for a second job to supplement my income and pay off debts. I am very concerned, but don’t know what to do. I have two children. So, I have to look for more jobs to earn my income because now it is very difficult. I don’t even have enough for food,” he said.
Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina said the government’s decision had cost workers their income.
“According to the Labour Law, the employer is duty-bound to look into the problem. But instead, the government is the one taking charge. Some factories had received a lot of benefits, but are now making excuses to get away.
“By asking workers to return to agricultural jobs, they will all pay attention to this sector, but is there enough of a market in agriculture? It is difficult. When people turn to grow crops, produce will be cheaper.
“If they grow them on a family-scale, it won’t be a problem. But if they grow crops to be supplied to the market, they might not be able to compete price-wise,” Sina said.
He urged the government to join the private sector in lowering the price of goods, especially food to help defuse the burden of debts which workers owe banks.
Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia deputy secretary-general Kaing Monika could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.