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Millions garment workers hung out to dry in South and Southeast Asia

Garment manufacturers at a factory in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Times. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PHNOM PENH, Aug 12, 2020, The Phnom Penh Post. Millions of garment workers in South and Southeast Asian countries have not received their regular wages or were not paid at all in March, April or May due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said a report released on Monday by Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), The Phnom Penh Post reported.

A global network dedicated to empowering garment workers, it said several factors created the disastrous scenario, including cancelled orders by apparel brands and State-sanctioned wage cuts implemented because of the crisis.

The CCC estimated that across South and Southeast Asia, garment workers received an average of 38 per cent less than their regular income for March, April and May. In some regions in India, workers received more than 50 per cent less than their regular income.

The report said wage losses of garment workers in the region, excluding China, were estimated to equate to between $3.2 and $5.8 billion.

Clean Clothes Campaign called on apparel brands and retailers to take responsibility to ensure that all workers in their supply chains receive their full wages as per labour laws and international standards.

This would require brands to commit to soliciting funds, providing direct contributions and working together with other stakeholders to ensure that all workers making and handling their products receive the wages they are owed, the report said.

The president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), Ath Thorn, said on Tuesday that some factories in Cambodia had closed and not paid their workers. Among the 80 factories that shut down, most did not pay the workers any wages, he said.

He alleged that there were many corrupt employers in Cambodia who used Covid-19 as an excuse not to compensate workers.

The Post could not contact Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training spokesman Heng Sour for comment on Tuesday.

Labour minister Ith Sam Heng said in January last year that Cambodia had about 60 garment and footwear factories and 80,000 workers in 1996. By January last year, the numbers increased to nearly 1,000 factories and almost 810,000 workers.

The government previously declared it would pay $40 per month to garment factory workers whose job were suspended, with employers on the hook for an additional $30 in support each month.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said some factories are having financial problems, making it difficult to pay the workers their wages.

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