Unions Propose New Body to Monitor Social Fund, Pensions

Trade unions are proposing a new committee to monitor the country’s social fund for injured workers, pension program for civil servants and health care for the poor in a bid to improve and expand coverage.

At a Phnom Penh workshop laying out their broad proposal for a National Social Fund Authority, Cambodian Labor Confederation President Ath Thorn said the plan has been in the works for nearly a year and would be sent to the government early next month.

“If there is no National Social Fund Authority, the status of the social fund sector will be the same as it is now, which means that coverage will still be very low and very slow,” he said.

The unions’ vision is for a new body composed of government, employer and employee representatives charged with monitoring the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) for private-sector employees injured on the job, the pension program for veterans and civil servants, and the free health care provided to the poorest Cambodians.

All three programs have come under repeated fire for poor service, not covering enough of the workforce—people employed in the largely informal construction sector, for example—or for monthslong delays in payments.

Besides monitoring the implementation of the three programs, the new body would also be tasked with finding a way to provide injury pay, health insurance and pensions to both public and private-sector employees.

The NSSF, for instance, covers less than 1.2 million people in the private sector. Mr. Thorn said the pension program covers only 350,000 veterans or civil servants, and that 2 million poor people currently receive free or discounted health care.

“That’s why we propose the creation of the National Social Fund Authority, for covering all of them,” he said. “And the National Authority would monitor the current social funds so that they provide good quality service and cover all people.”

Mr. Thorn said his union and more than 10 others have signed a proposal letter they plan to

send to Prime Minister Hun Sen next week, and that more than 300 unions have expressed their support.

But he made no mention of how much the extra services would cost or who would pay for it. While the government covers the current pension program and free healthcare for the poor, with much donor help, employers feed the NSSF by paying in a percent of their workers’ salaries.

NSSF deputy director Sum Sophorn, who attended Sunday’s workshop, told a reporter that it would be premature for him to comment on a proposal with significant political consequences.

“I dare not talk about the government’s position on this plan because it is political and the government needs to consider it very carefully,” he said.

The head of the International Labor Organization’s social protection program in Cambodia, Ork Malika, who also attended the workshop, said she was unauthorized to comment. The organization’s country coordinator could not be reached.

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