In a move welcomed by union leaders and workers, the Ministry of Labour has announced an allowance of more than $11 million to be distributed to garment workers who were caught in lockdowns earlier this year.
The social protection allowance would be provided to almost 275,747 garment workers from a total of 513 factories in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Preah Sihanouk provinces, according to a Tuesday statement from the Labour Ministry.
Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour did not comment on the allowance, but the statement said the plan will distribute to each worker 160,000 riels, or about $40. Workers should expect to receive a code through their mobile phones allowing them to access the money through financial services company Wing.
Garment worker Sok Maly, 39, received $40 on Tuesday. She told CamboJA she was happy to get the money after going through the challenges of the lockdown, which shuttered all garment factories in the capital metro.
“Although it’s not much money, it can reduce the cost of daily spending,” Maly said, adding that she also has to pay off bank debt on a monthly rate of $150. “I have to buy milk for my seven-month-old son and food for my family.”
During the lockdown, she explained, her factory employer didn’t provide any allowances to workers. Maly had requested the factory to pay her regular salary while there were delays in getting any salary at all.
Fellow garment worker Yim Savon, 47, said she received a code to access the allowance but hasn’t yet had time to pick up the money.
“No matter how much they give me, it’s helpful because I have to spend a lot with little income,” Savon said, listing basic daily expenses such as food and rent.
Bang Sokry, another garment worker, said she had received $40 through a Wing agent on Tuesday afternoon.
“I’ve had a lot of problems because I have to pay for my rental room and the daily living of my family,” she said. “We’re happy to get the $40, it can solve our problems for a while.”
Labor leaders told CamboJA the allowance was a step in the right direction but needs more funding to truly meet the needs of workers.
“I think a $40 allowance isn’t enough in response to worker expenditure in this circumstance,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, though he said the payment is still “part of sharing the burdens of workers.”
To that effect, he supported the measure to help workers after the lockdown but said more needs to be done.
“The government should provide an allowance of at least 50 percent of their current wage,” Sina said.
He urged employers to consider providing allowances to their staff, saying it was regrettable that they have not. Sina also noted the COVID-19 outbreak is still impacting garment workers due to a lack of enforcement of measures to prevent packed transport trucks and workplace gathering.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the industry group Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), welcomed the allowance and said employer contributions would ultimately be decided on a case-by-case basis.
“It depends on the ability of the employers, but some employers have already provided allowances,” Loo said.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, shared a similar assessment of the government-provided allowance as Sina.
“For me, it doesn’t amount to much money, the 160,000 riel, but it can help the daily livelihood of workers while they suffer hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Thorn said it would be best if the government provides a monthly allowance to the affected garment workers and also called on the government to consider providing an allowance to informal workers, because they are also suffering the economic fallout of the outbreak. (Additional reporting by Sam Sopich)