Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Unions urge ministry to reverse seniority indemnity payments delays

Union leaders gather in front of the Labor Ministry on June 22 to submit a petition calling for employers to provide seniority indemnity pay owed to workers after the ministry said it would not require companies to make the payments until 2021. Panha Chhorpoan

Representatives of 14 major trade unions submitted a petition to the Labor Ministry on June 22 calling for employers to provide annual seniority indemnity pay owed to workers after the ministry said it would not require companies to make the payments until 2021. 

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union Movement of Workers (CUMW), said outside the ministry that a representative of the Committee for the Resolution of Strikes at the Labor Mistry had received the petition.

Sina said that the unions had submitted their request asking the Labor Ministry to review its recent declaration allowing companies to delay workers’ seniority indemnity payments for both 2019 and 2020. The announcement, issued June 2, allows employers in all sectors including garment, footwear, tourism, and construction to delay seniority indemnity payments due to the global economic slowdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our unions think that the Labor Ministry’s decision to delay seniority indemnity payments will cause workers more difficulties while they are already facing work suspensions and receiving less income, which often isn’t enough to support their day-to-day costs,” Sina said.

He said that the ministry’s decision seemed to provide employers and factory owners with an excuse to cut workers’ benefits more while their employees are struggling under mounting financial stress. 

The Ministry of Labor established seniority indemnity payments in 2018 as a form of biannual seniority indemnity pay for workers who are on an undetermined duration contract, according to a Labor Ministry prakas. The amount may account for 15 to 30 days wages annually depending on the worker’s industry.

The petition, signed by 14 unions including CUMW, CCAWDU, Cambodian Labor Confederation, and Cambodian Trade Union Federation urged Labor Minister Ith Samheng to consider pushing employers to provide seniority indemnity payments on time for 2019 and 2020. The ministry normally requires the payments to be made biannually in June and December.

“Workers are dealing with increased financial burdens including monthly loan payments, treatment expenses for sick family members, as well as daily living expenses,” the petition said.

Although the ministry’s June 2 statement allows seniority indemnity payments to be delayed until 2021, it does require employers to make the payments in cases where a worker has either resigned or been laid-off.

Nin Vannak, a deputy secretary-general of the Committee for the Resolution of Strikes at the Labour Ministry confirmed receipt of the unions’ petition and would respond soon.

“The ministry received the petition and we will try to respond to [the unions] soon,” Vannak said before declining to elaborate.

Chhim Sithar, president of the NagaWorld’s Labour Rights’ Supported Union of Khmer Employees, said her union had signed onto the petition as the casino’s employees have been suffering financially since March, when the government forced large entertainment venues to close to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“All 14 unions request that the government cancel the declaration on June 2 because it does not help mitigate our suffering, but instead further limits workers’ benefits,” Sithar said. “We hope that Samdech [Prime Minister Hun Sen] and the government will receive our request to cancel the declaration delaying seniority pay.”  

Chheng Heng, a worker at Top Silver garment factory in Prey Veng province said by phone that the factory owners had decided to suspend all workers from June 1 until August 1 this year, providing them with just $30 in addition to the $40 monthly support that the government has allotted to factory workers put on leave. She said she supported the unions’ request to help workers receive their seniority indemnity payments.

“I think that the unions’ request is good. I support it,” Heng said, adding that receiving her seniority indemnity payments this year would help her pay back the $7,000 loan her family had taken out in 2018 to build a house.

She said that before the factory suspended operations, she made between $300 and $500 per month.

“Now, I don’t have enough money to pay the bank,” she said.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment, but in an interview on Radio France International’s Khmer-language service at the end of May, he had estimated that about 110,000 factory workers were still temporarily suspended from work.

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