Suspended Factory Workers Face Daily Struggle

Thousands of garment factory workers have had their hours cut or jobs suspended amid tough global economic times. Impacted employees share the hardships of surviving on a severely slashed income
Factory workers leave work in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Factory workers leave work in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

“I spent about 30,000 riel a day when I had a full-time job, but now I spend less than 10,000 riel a day. It’s hard sometimes; I can't even ​buy snacks when I'm hungry.”

Met Sampor, 39, has spent nine years working at a shoe factory located in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district. He is one of about 800 workers out of 1,200 who were suspended on July 1.

The father-of-four is facing economic challenges following his suspension. He admitted it is a daily struggle to cover the cost of food, housing, and other essentials, while also having to make monthly payments on bank loans.

Suspended Factory Workers to Receive Allowances, Says PM

$6.4m Footwear Factory Inaugurated in Kampong Speu

“When there’s no job, it is hard to survive. I borrowed money from the bank of $6,000 to build my house and now my work is suspended. It’s hard,” Sampor said.

He is not alone. Mao Sreymom was suspended for two months in April and May. Although she has since returned to work, her working hours have been reduced, which has hurt her finances.

“It’s affecting the economy,” she said. “[There is] only me who supports the whole family. My husband is now jobless because the company he worked for just closed. The most challenging thing is the debt I have to pay back that I borrowed during my suspension.”

Factory workers buy food in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Factory workers buy food in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

In the face of uncertainty, Sampor is also concerned about the possibility of his factory shutting down. The shoe worker is now considering moving abroad to find employment.

“If the company continues the suspension, I have no choice. I might go to Thailand to seek a job,” he said.

Sampor was offered $70 during his suspension from the Ministry of Labor, of which he has received $30, and his company pledged $40 a month. However, this is insufficient to pay his debts and maintain his family. In comparison, his salary was $350, significantly more than what he gets today.

As of yet, he has not received the remaining assistance payment from the Ministry of Labor.

While the garment sector is one of the country’s main economic pillars, Sampor is concerned that if the government does not make an effort to attract foreign investors, it will have a detrimental impact on the nation’s entire economy.

Sreymom, who raised concerns about the company's ambiguity, said she does not have a formal education. If given no other option, she is also willing to seek work abroad.

To read more stories like this, join our Telegram Channel and subscribe to our email newsletter.

The 38-year-old mother said that she tried to find another job during her suspension, but was only able to work for a brief time at another company. Her time there was short-lived as there was not enough work.

According to Sreymom, who works at a clothing manufacturer in Angk Snuol District, Kandal Province, 740 of the 762 employees have had their working hours cut.

Factory worker, Thy Sophanny, also expressed concern over the uncertainty of her company, fearing an immediate reduction of working hours or suspension.

“I’m worried about what 's going to happen. Sometimes the orders drop down. I do not have 100 percent trust in the current situation, and I'm worried that the company could suspend my work without letting me know beforehand,” she said.

Sophanny told Kiripost that her factory, one of Cambodia's largest factories located in Kampong Chhnang, manufactures materials for international brands, including Nike and Adidas.

At the end of 2021, it employed more than 10,000 people. However, as a result of falling orders brought on by the economic crisis, only 7,000 people remained. This month, 2,000 out of 7,000 employees had been suspended.

Sophanny added that the garment sector in Cambodia is extremely competitive. There is also the high cost of exporting combined with the loss of preferential trade, meaning companies are often forced to cut costs to stay afloat. This can lead to job losses, wage cuts, and other forms of reasoning.

“Most companies reason that due to the lack of large order demands, along with the loss of preferential trade, the tax on exports to international markets is high, so they have to reduce their labor force to survive,” she said.

Sophanny and other workers also fear the possibility of an economic stalemate, which they see as a threat to their livelihoods. She urged the future Prime Minister, Hun Manet, to take steps to mitigate the challenge, such as facilitating rising commodity prices and requesting preferential trade from Western countries.

Factory workers leave work in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Factory workers leave work in Phnom Penh. Kiripost/Siv Channa

A preliminary union report found that at least 10,731 garment workers from eight factories in Phnom Penh and Kampong Chhnang province have been suspended or terminated since July.

Vice President of Free Trade Union, Say Sokny, said as a result of a lack of raw materials, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the possibility of inflation, and the loss of preferential trade, several companies have laid off employees since September 2022.

“The company told me that there are no raw materials that are exported from China, because of the flooding there. The Ukraine war and price inflation also cause people to reduce their spending, and there are other factors relevant to losing Everything But Arms (EBA) and Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), as well as other possible sanctions,” Sokny said.

She is concerned that if the government fails to seek mechanisms to deal with these issues, the rise in worker suspensions will be another phenomenon​ of the economic crisis.

The government pledged to provide monetary assistance for suspended garment workers in late March. However, so far few workers have received the assistance.

According to Sokny, these problems have an impact on both workers' emotional and physical wellbeing. To cover their basic needs, garment workers should receive a monthly income of at least $300.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Meas Sok Sensan, told Kiripost that the rate of assistance is based on the actual condition of unemployed people. He added that the unemployment rate is not particularly high.

Labour Ministry spokesman, Heng Sour, and deputy secretary-general of Textile, Apparel, Footwear and Travel Goods Association of Cambodia (TAFTAC), Kaing Monika, did not respond to Kiripost’s request for comments.

To read more stories like this, join our Telegram Channel and subscribe to our email newsletter.


Contact author of the article