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Unions wary of energy plan

An electricity notice sits on the wall next to power metres at a garment worker’s residence
An electricity notice sits on the wall next to power metres at a garment worker’s residence yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. Pha Lina

Unions wary of energy plan

Some labour unions are suggesting reforms to state energy provider Electricite du Cambodge’s (EdC) plan to grant energy discounts to garment workers in Phnom Penh, saying yesterday that the current arrangement is “too complex to implement”.

More than two weeks ago, EdC announced that it will lower electricity costs to alleviate the financial burden on impoverished workers after they complained about homeowners charging staggering prices ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 riel ($0.25 to $0.62) per kilowatt.

According to the new plan, workers are entitled to pay a lower fixed price of 610 riel ($0.15) per kilowatt for electricity consumed under 50 kilowatts a month. Electricity beyond that, however, will be subjected to public prices.

To enforce the $2-million plan, EdC was supposed to have installed new connections yesterday in rental spaces in three districts heavily populated by garment workers, said director-general Keo Rattanak in a recorded video clip last week.

The districts are Russei Keo, Meanchey and Dangkor.

EdC will bypass homeowners and draw up independent contracts with workers, charging them directly to avoid any price manipulation.

But unions are dubious.

“We really appreciate that the government announced this policy, but it just doesn’t sound realistic enough to implement,” said CLEC labour program head Moeun Tola.

C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn agreed, saying “some workers don’t have necessary documents to register for contracts and lack the time to pay the bill separately from their current utilities”.

Thorn also added that around 20 per cent of C.CAWDU’s members are unwilling to pay the 35,000 riels fee to install the new electric cables and counters.

To simplify the process, both labour leaders suggested that EdC let homeowners manage the payments and penalise landlords who charge beyond the fixed price.

Currently, most homeowners, according to Thorn, oppose the new initiative but have been told by EdC that they are obligated to comply with government policy.

“We will compromise with the homeowners to make this project successful,” said Long Dimanche, spokesman for Phnom Penh’s city hall, which is helping with implementation.

EdC officials will meet with homeowners from Monday to Sunday in the next few weeks to straighten out any outstanding issues, Rattanak said.

Kim Tay Factory garment worker Kit Meng said that the discounts are good, “but we’re worried that now the homeowners might overcharge water prices or increase rent to make up for their loss of money in electricity, so officials really need to negotiate with them”.

EdC could not be reached for comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA

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