Hun Sen Promises Free Hospital Treatment, Checkups for Workers

In yet another potentially major new benefit to Cambodian workers ahead of next year’s national election, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday announced that employees in some of the country’s key industries would soon be able to receive free checkups and treatment at state hospitals.

The announcement came exactly a week after he showered a raft of new benefits on the country’s roughly 700,000 garment workers, in what many see as an unabashed bid for their votes in a coming election race expected to be closely run by the opposition CNRP, which pulled strong support from garment workers in 2013.

“Starting from 2018, all garment, construction, hotel, transportation [and] agriculture workers will receive medical checkups and treatment from state hospitals free of charge,” Mr. Hun Sen said in a Facebook post after speaking to more than 4,000 mid-level garment factory workers in Phnom Penh on Sunday.

The post provides no details about the plan, which would extend new health care benefits to a large swath of the workforce and put added pressure on a public health sector already straining from a lack of funds.

It makes no mention of how much the plan would cost, whether it would cover lengthy and expensive medical treatment, or what steps workers will have to take to qualify.

Spokespeople for the Health Ministry either declined to comment or could not be reached.

Leaving Mr. Hun Sen’s speech on Sunday, Chuon Chheng, the assistant to the chief administrator at Phnom Penh’s Kada Apparel Corp., welcomed the free medical care but questioned the timing.

“I’m really happy to hear what he promised the workers, but I wonder if what he said was because of his desire to help us or if he just wants our votes.”

Sar Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, did not hear the prime minister’s promises in person but was unimpressed.

“It’s the state’s duty” to take care of the country’s workforce, he said.

“Even if he had not promised it, it’s what he needs to do. Our government has failed to provide these services in the past. It’s the main reason our people are poor.”

Mr. Mora, whose union represents everyone from gas station attendants to hotel maids, said the new benefits were clearly timed for July’s national election.

“It is close to the national elections. That’s why he’s doing it, to get support from the workers,” he said.

In his post, Mr. Hun Sen made no direct plea for CPP votes but criticized the CNRP without mentioning it by name.

He also elaborated on some of the new benefits he promised garment factory workers last week.

He said a pension plan set to start in 2019 would guarantee them 80 percent of their salaries in their final years on the job and that landlords around garment factories would be encouraged not to raise their rents next year.

He also repeated his promise that next year’s monthly minimum wage for garment workers, currently set at $153, would be no less than $168.

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