New Year Celebrations Take Toll on Worker Productivity

B  Many garment factories were only half-filled following the end of the Khmer New Year holiday, slowing production and raising concerns that too many paid holidays could affect the industry’s competitiveness, factory managers said Thursday.

As Roger Tan, manager of the Thai-Pore Garment Manufactur­ing Co, surveyed his factory floor Thursday morning, he saw more workers nursing hangovers than making pullovers.

“After the Khmer New Year there is hardly any production,” he said. [Workers] just talk about what they did and what they spent money on.”

Tan said approximately half of his 1,000 laborers arrived at the factory Thursday, and that few were working.

“It’s a loss for sure, but I’ll just let them get over it,” Tan said.

Another factory manager, who asked not to be named, said the aftereffects of the New Year celebrations—minimal motivation and high absence rates—reflected a larger problem of a lack of competitiveness due to too many holidays.

“We’re not going to meet our deadline. This is turning into a real problem. Behavior has to change or else we can’t compete with other countries,” said the manager of approximately 4,500 workers, less than half of whom reported for work Thursday.

He said Cambodia’s official holidays often turn into more lost time, since workers are tired upon their return and frequently extend their respites beyond the allotted time.

Ray Chew, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that, of the 10 Asean countries, Cambodia has the most paid holidays.

Thack San, adviser to the minister of Social Affairs and Labor, said workers enjoy 24 holidays a year. The Labor Law gives workers 18 paid vacation days, sev­en days of “compassionate” leave and 90 days of maternity leave.

Workers’ representatives say they understand manufacturers’ concerns but argue that it is often difficult to return from the prov­inces in a timely fashion.

Yin Saroeun, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers at June Textiles Co, said union members asked him to request an extra day off for Khmer New Year because their houses are far from the city. Still, he suggested that the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor reduce the number of holidays so that factories could improve production.

Chea Vichea, president of the na­tional Free Trade Union, agreed that the government could cut trivial holidays to boost the industry’s competitiveness.

But Thack San said workers were singing a different tune in 2001, when garment workers were allotted fewer holidays than the 24  civil servants received.

Responding to workers’ complaints, the ministry in 2002 of­fered factory employers as many holidays as civil servants, Thack San said. “This is our custom,” he said. “Investors have to abide by the custom.”

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