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Unions and Workers Cancel May Day Events in Light of Virus Outbreak

FILE: Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers gives a speech at a mass gathering to celebrate the 133rd Labor Day at riverside park in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2019. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)

Worker unions and rights groups have decided to cancel all planned events for the May Day holiday on Friday, and will instead hold an online conference on labor rights.

Owing to concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic, unions and labor groups will not assemble for the annual holiday, but will continue to advocate for the rights of workers, who have been worst hit by the current economic slowdown.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodia Labor Confederation, said the conference will include worker representatives for various sectors and will focus on ensuring workers are protected during the pandemic.

“We only invite the union representatives for an online news conference and we will submit the petition to the government,” said Ath Thorn, president of Cambodia Labor Confederation.

Ath Thorn said the petition would have 18 points, many similar to last year’s petition, especially focusing on the wellbeing of workers during the current pandemic.

Vorn Pao, president of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, on Wednesday said he will not organize any gatherings, but would invite workers affected by the economic slowdown to talk on Facebook Live. This, he said, would include informal workers, such as domestic workers, tuk-tuk drivers, and street vendors.

“We will invite them to talk online so that we send the message to the public and relevant authorities,” Vorn Pao said.

Vorn Pao asked the government to release the funds to help poor citizens by providing them food, money, hand sanitizer, and masks. He also urged the government to completely suspend loan payments to financial institutions for three to six months for poor citizens.

Ou Tephalin, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation, said the government had done little to help workers in her sector, but much more was needed.

“The attention of the government for these sectors is still low. I mean they have not focused on any sector and have not helped everyone in the country,” said Ou Tephalin.

The Ministry of Labor has said that 130 garment factories have suspended operations, affecting around 100,000 workers. Another 90,000 migrant workers have returned from overseas, with little employment opportunities in the provinces.

VOA Khmer could not reach Heng Sour, a Ministry of Labor spokesperson, on Wednesday.