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Nearly 30,000 Garment Workers in Isolation; Even Split Between Capital and Provinces

Garment workers returning to work in Phnom Penh after the Khmer New Year celebration are waiting for a health checkup at the Special Economic Zone in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on April 20, 2020. (Nem Sopheakpanha/VOA Khmer)

A Labor Ministry official said around 30,000 garment workers were being placed in 14-day isolation, with around 15,000 of the workers located in the capital.

The Labor and Health Ministries have started conducting health checkups in the capital and provinces to monitor the spread of the novel coronavirus. These workers had either applied for leave or skipped work during the canceled Khmer New Year holidays last week, stoking fears of the disease spreading through the provinces.

Heng Sour, a Ministry of Labor spokesperson, spoke to reporters at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone, where a few hundreds of the workers waited to have health checks. He said that around 30,000 garment workers took leave during Khmer New Year, 15,000 of whom were now in Phnom Penh.

He said that the Ministry of Labor in cooperation with City Hall and Ministry of Health had set up 10 temporary locations in Phnom Penh to conduct the health check for five straight days.

If workers exhibited no symptoms of the respiratory disease, he said, they would get a doctor’s letter allowing them to self-isolate at home. Others with symptoms, or with no place to self-isolate, would be monitored at the government facilities and likely tested for the virus.

“If they're found without any symptoms, the doctor will give a letter showing that they don't have the symptoms,” he said. “Thus, it means that they should do self-quarantine at home or at the rental place.”

As of Monday noon, Heng Sour said that two workers were found with symptoms related to COVID-19, not elaborating if they had been tested.

Awaiting a check-up at the special economic zone, 28-year-old worker Toung Sovann said she had received an SMS from the factory asking her to come get tested.

“I think it's good to do a check-up to see if we are infected. If we come to do a check-up, we will know for sure that we're not infected,” she said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general at the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the industry body had asked all factories and workers to comply with the government’s directive, adding that failure to get a health check could be cause for dismissal.

“If they don't come for the check-up, it's a big mistake. The company has the rights to lay them off,” he said. “Not coming to do a check-up means not coming to work.”

Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodia Alliance of Trade Unions, said the 14-day isolation period would put financial stress on the workers, with only those who asked for leave receiving 7 days of salaries. Others, the ministry has ordered, will get no compensation during the quarantined period.

“First, they can't generate income. Second, how would they provide for daily expenses?” she said. “Third, how can they pay rent?”

Yang Sophorn also voiced concerns on workers who have been fired because they didn't come to work during Khmer New Year.

Last week, VOA Khmer reported that workers had been fired even though they had asked for permission to travel to their hometowns but couldn’t return on account of a travel ban enforced by the government to prevent workers from flocking to the provinces.

As of Tuesday, Cambodia had reported no new cases for nine straight days, with the national tally standing at 122 cases and 110 reported recoveries.