The Ministry of Labour instructed factories and enterprises in the Kingdom to give workers three days off in order to cast their ballots in the July 29 national elections, stating that salaries and bonuses should remain unaffected. The move raised eyebrows with a former opposition official and at least one NGO saying the directive was meant to boost turnout and legitimise the poll.
In a letter, dated June 13 and signed by Minister of Labour Ith Samheng, the ministry wrote: “The owners and executives of all factories, enterprises and institutions have to allow workers and employees to have three days off from July 28-30 . . . keeping wages and bonuses as usual for the workers and employees.”
The letter said the decision was made as per request by the National Election Committee (NEC).
When asked for an explanation of the missive, ministry spokesman Heng Sour claimed all questions could be answered by the letter itself.
Hang Puthea, spokesperson of the NEC, confirmed that the election body had requested help from the ministry but said it did not put a requirement on the length of leave.
“The NEC had requested that owners of enterprises and factories make it easy for workers to go to vote. But we did not mean that they have to stop working. We did not specify the number of days. But we specified at one point that Sunday, which is a holiday, don’t make it mandatory to work,” he said on Thursday.
The announcement differed from one put out prior to the commune elections last year when the Labour Ministry made a similar statement but didn’t specify a number of days for the leave period. Before the elections of 2013, 2012 and 2008, however, one to three days of leave were mandated depending on how far workers needed to travel.
Man Senghak, deputy president of Free Trade Union FTUWKC, said that for last year’s commune elections he had requested the Ministry of Labour to give workers three days off to go, but the ministry did nothing.
“Because some parties compete in the election and some parties didn’t join, voting or not is the right of the people. The difference is that the election last year was not cared about by the Ministry of Labour. But this year it cares very much,” Senghak said.
Korng Savang, an official with election watchdog Comfrel, said the decision could be due to the competition between parties in the election and the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
“The parties that participate in the elections call people to go to vote, while the parties that do not join, called people to boycott. So, the NEC and the parties in the election want legitimacy. So, all institutions want people to go to vote. It is connected with politics,” he said.
Mu Sochua, ex-deputy president of the CNRP, said what the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) wants is the workers’ votes. “From early vote buying to special allowances for pregnant workers and ordering employers to let workers go to vote, it is a clear sign that the CPP needs their votes,” Sochua said. “The main thing is voters must be allowed to vote or not and not get punished if they stay home.”