PHNOM PEN– The Center for Labor Alliances and Human Rights (Central) has warned of increasing protests and strikes if factories’ owners fail to address workers’ seniority indemnity payments as workers’ livelihood continues to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Khun Tharo, a program coordinator at Central, on Jan. 22 said that in early 2021 there were series of protests regarding seniority indemnity payments.
Around 8,000 workers from six factories went on strike, and the strike was mostly related to seniority payments due to the fact that workers have been experiencing financial hardship during the COVID-19 outbreak and need those payments, Tharo said.
He cautioned that more strikes or protests may take place if employers don’t comply with the directives of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.
On Jan. 21, the Ministry of Labor issued a notice to all factory owners to pay seniority bonuses to workers. The ministry said that all factory owners who owe pre-2019 and 2021 seniority indemnity benefits must give them to the workers in the second and fourth quarters of 2021. Seniority payments for 2020 must be paid in the first and third quarters of 2021, the ministry stated.
On Jan. 22, about 1,200 workers at three different factories—the Y&W factory in Dangkor District and the Canterne factory in Por Senchey District in Phnom Penh, and the Holiday Design factory in Kong Pisei District in Kampong Speu Province—held protests to demand their seniority payments.
“I think that if the factory side does not comply with the notification of the Ministry of Labor, which requires the seniority indemnity payment, and if the implementation does not happen, there may be protests in other places because it is factory workers’ benefits [they are owed],” Tharo said.
“And most of them are being severely affected during the pandemic,” he said, adding that this small amount of benefits will greatly help support workers and their families.
Since Cambodia reported the country’s first COVID-19 case in Jan. 2020, over 100,000 workers across the country have turned jobless as the economy was hit hard by the pandemic. But the situation may improve in the coming months as the World Bank projected the country’s economy to bounce back and grow by 4 percent in 2021
In the meantime, more than 160 international airport staff in Siem Reap Province recently held protests in response to the management company changing employees’ positions and firing others due to the pandemic.
As the number of labor disputes has come up in the country, Tharo noted that it was a positive development to learn that the Ministry of Justice plans to establish a Commercial and Labor Courts this year.
“The establishment of this labor court is a good thing,” he said.
While the courts will contribute to resolving workers’ disputes, what will be crucial is the court’s settlement mechanism, Tharo said. “More importantly, is the mechanism an independent and effective solution? We need to pay attention to this,” he said.