Prime Minister Hun Sen broached the long-running issue of excessive overtime worked by garment factory employees in a speech yesterday, in what at least one analyst saw as a possible play for garment worker support.
During his commencement speech at the National University of Management, the premier appealed to factories in Cambodia’s garment and footwear sector to only allow employees to work two hours overtime per day, in accordance with the Labour Law.
“Please be careful, the law allows for only two hours [per day] of overtime work,” Hun Sen said. “The workers, especially the female workers, need to work overtime in order to get more money, but please understand that this poorly affects their future.”
With a base salary of $128 per month, workers in Cambodia’s largest export industry are typically forced to work more than the Labour Law’s maximum overtime hours just to make ends meet, said Joel Preston, a consultant for the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).
“[Excessive overtime has] always been a huge problem, I think it’s endemic,” Preston said.
Paired with this is the wide use of short-term employment contracts, which creates fear among workers that refusal to work hours requested by management will jeopardise the renewal of their contracts.
The low wages and anxiety over contracts function as a “sort of double handcuff”, Preston added
After the speech, Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour said that labour inspectors, who already monitor overtime hours at factories, will be instructed to pay closer attention to the issue. The Labour Ministry will also issue a general warning to Cambodia’s garment factories against allowing employees to work more than two hours overtime per day.
“We thank the recommendation of our prime minister,” Sour said in an interview. “Now the ministry is drafting a warning to the factories to [follow] the Labour Law in terms of overtime.”
Independent political analyst Kem Ley said yesterday that he was not sure why Hun Sen chose yesterday to bring up the issue, but guessed it may have been an attempt to garner support for the Cambodian People’s Party from the industry’s approximately 600,000 workers, noting that the opposition party often publicly supports garment unions.