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Experts Call on Gov’t to Encourage Garment Workers to Vote

Garment factory workers leaves work on a packed tuk-tuk vehicle in the outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 25, 2017. (Khan Sokummono/VOA)

Election observers and labor rights campaigners said without clear guidance many could be excluded from the results.

With the commune elections just around the corner, the government has yet to come up with a plan to help garment workers get to the polls.

Many have come forward with concerns that they may be unable to get time off work or be able to access polling stations on June 4.

Election observers and labor rights campaigners said without clear guidance many could be excluded from the results.

Moeun Tola, chief executive of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (Central), said the government was to blame for not facilitating workers who wish to return to their hometowns to vote.

“If there is no facilitation, or instructions for factories and businesses, they will surely not allow workers to leave for the election,” he said.

“Even though the election is on Sunday, they need time to travel.”

Last Thursday, the National Election Committee (NEC) called on employers to allow workers time off to vote.

But Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said as the NEC letter was unenforceable and not backed up by an order from the labor ministry, it carried little weight.

“When workers are not allowed to leave, they will face many problems, such as wage and bonus cuts,” he said.

“We are sorry that the state is not able to help workers overseas [migrant workers]. Now they can’t fully help the workers inside the country.”

Ken Loo, secretary general of Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said the group’s member companies would not grant workers permission to leave work to vote unless ordered by the government.

“We follow the law and the ministry. There isn't a bonus day off because the election is on Sunday,” he said. ​

Hang Puthea, NEC spokesman, said that employers should take the initiative if the government did not order companies to close operations.

Phay Siphan, government spokesman, claimed the government and Prime Minister Hun Sen had “already issued a request,” which he said was “enough”.

Workers this week said they had registered to vote but were unsure if they would be able to make it back to their home communes as their employers had not informed them of time off.

Voung Pheap, 48, a garment worker from Prey Veng province, said her factory had granted workers three days off for the election, while others, such as Sok Kunthea, 42, from Svay Rieng province, were unclear whether they would be granted leave.

“If they cut our wages, I’ll have no reason to risk my job to vote,” said Orn Khem, 27, another garment worker.