Garment factory workers are seeing their working hours cut amid China’s coronavirus scare and the EU’s announcement that it will partially withdraw Cambodia’s trade privileges.
Factories have previously said that they are running out of raw materials imported from China due to coronavirus quarantine measures in place there, while the EU earlier this month announced it was suspending its “Everything But Arms” deal for several categories of products due to “serious and systematic” human rights violations in Cambodia.
The country’s main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved eight months ahead of national elections in 2018, alongside a crackdown on independent media and civil society, sparking criticism from the EU and U.S.
Luy Eng, 40, a worker at Eastex Garment in Phnom Penh, said overtime was canceled at her factory since January. About 3,000 workers at the factory now must leave at 4 p.m., whereas they had previously earned more by staying on as late as 9 p.m., she said.
Furthermore, the factory’s 1,000 short-term contract workers had not been getting their contracts renewed in recent weeks, Eng said.
Most of the clothes produced at the factory — including H&M branded apparel — are exported to the EU, she added.
At Akeentex, a factory in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, workers have been ordered to leave work at 3 p.m., said Yang Samean, 27.
“This factory does not stop workers from their work, but the factory has reduced work hours,” Samean said.
German sportswear brand Puma was among the clothes being manufactured at Akeentex, she said.
Kampong Chhnang province’s Horizon Outdoor, with about 8,000 workers, also cut two hours, with workers now leaving at 4 p.m. instead of 6 p.m., said Seak Hong, 37.
North Face bags and clothes were being produced at the factory and exported to Australia, Canada and the EU, Hong said.
“Most workers in this factory are concerned so much about the EBA issue because our workers have no jobs beside garment factory work, and we owe the bank,” she said.
Preap Monysovann, secretary-general of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said five factories where his union had members had begun to reduce their workforces.
Orange Manufacturing in Prey Veng province, two Top Silver factories in Prey Veng and Tbong Khmum, Hong Sen Textile in Takeo and Woorie Garment in Phnom Penh were seeing cutbacks, he said.
“All five garment factories have been reducing their workforces because of the EBA issue and [coronavirus], so it will make workers lose their jobs,” Monysovann said.
Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), said her union members had reported that working hours were being reduced at two factories in Kampong Chhnang and Kampong Speu provinces.
“The factories ordered workers to leave from work at 4 p.m. from February,” she said. “In the past, workers worked overtime until 6 p.m.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday ordered that factories provide a cushion for workers in the case of job losses, paying them 40 percent of the minimum wage for six months and the government providing a further 20 percent.
Manufacturers associations have warned of job losses in the wake of the EU’s decision, with the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia saying in a statement on Feb. 17 that “it will increase poverty in our country and make it more difficult to improve wages and benefits for other workers.”
Cambodia Footwear Association deputy secretary-general Nguon Chnnara said in a statement issued on the same day that “suspending EBA benefits for Cambodian footwear products will result in large job losses across the industry and will considerably hurt the industry’s work force, and put at risk of returning to poverty tens of thousands of our workers and the many tens of thousands of additional family members that reply upon our workers.”