Cambodian garment workers facing uphill battle in global downturn – UN

Garment workers going home on motorcycles in Cambodia [File Photo]

25 March 2010 – Even those Cambodian garment workers who were able to hold on to their jobs in the face of global economic challenges have not escaped the current downturn unscathed, a new survey led by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) has found.

Factory closures or cutbacks due to reduced orders forced many garment workers in the South-East Asian nation out of a job. One in 10 unemployed workers lost their positions two or more times last year, with most still looking for work.

A study assessing 1,200 employed and 800 unemployed workers in the capital, Phnom Penh, finds that many with work have had their salaries slashed and now feel as though they do not have enough money to cover remittances and basic needs such as food, health care and transport.

Many of those who lost their jobs but managed to find new ones are working under less favourable conditions, seeking assistance from trade unions for assistance on challenges such as asking for leave and late wage payments.

Even though laid-off workers have looked for jobs in other garment factories, only one third of them succeed in finding work.

Those looking outside the garment industry typically try to find jobs in the service sector to work as salespeople, tailors or food vendors.

Even though many would like to enroll in training programmes, the cannot, and the families of some workers, both employed and unemployed, have sent additional family members – mostly women – to find work to deal with the loss in income.

“The information we are gathering though the survey has been helpful in identifying action that can be taken by a range of stakeholders to help struggling workers, strengthen the garment sector, and better prepare the country to deal with future economic setbacks,” said Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser at ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia initiative.

Based on the survey results, ILO is calling for employment policies promoting productive employment, enhancing social protection and working with employers to be compliant with labour laws.

The study was commissioned by the ILO with the support of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and was carried out by the Cambodia Institute of Development Study (CIDS).

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