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For Workers, Special Obstacles to Voting

[Editor's note: In the weeks leading into national polls, VOA Khmer will explore a wide number of election issues. The "Election Issues 2008" series will air stories on Tuesday and Wednesday, followed by a related "Hello VOA" guest on Thursday. This is the first in a two-part series examining the role of workers in the election.]

The increasing price of gas may be one deterrent for voters this year, but workers say they will also have to overcome the policies of their bosses.

Many garment workers live in Phnom Penh but hail from rural provinces, where they are registered to vote. This can make travel for voting expensive, and requires time off for work.

Independent groups have worked hard to encourage factories to give their workers time off for Election Day, July 27, but workers say they worry individual factory owners have little incentive to do so.

Workers say in the 2007 commune elections, they were forced to work overtime during the elections, but they were not given time off. They are worried the same will happen in July.

The July election was very important, said Nov Sokheoun, 25, a garment worker at the Teratec factory, who is registered in Kampot province. "I wish to attend to vote, although my province is 120 kilometers far away from Phnom Penh."

Some workers representatives say there should be no problem.

Chuon Mom Thol, president of the Cambodian Union Federation, said there should be no problem, and he plans to make a request to the Ministry of Labor to allow workers time off to vote.

Om Mean, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Labor, said on Monday the ministry issued an official letter to all unions and factory owners to allow garment workers to vote. When the factory owners receive the letter, they will respect the ruling of the government, he said.

There are 394 factories in Phnom Penh, employing 340,000 people, according to the president of the Free Trade Union, Chea Mony.