Protections for apparel workers expanded

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Garment workers leave their factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district last year. Hong Menea

OXFAM in Cambodia and the Laudes Foundation have launched an initiative to help the Cambodian government strengthen inclusive social protection for apparel industry employees.

The project – Inclusive National Social Protection Initiatives that Respond to the Needs of Apparel Industry Employees (INSPIRE) – is implemented by Oxfam Cambodia with support from the foundation, in partnership with four well-established NGOs and trade unions, according to a joint press statement. It will run until 2025.

The four partners are the Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL), Cambodian Labour Confederation, Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, and Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

“This initiative will enable apparel industry workers to better access social protection schemes and benefits, information, and to hold service providers more accountable. It will also support the Royal Government of Cambodia to integrate gender transformative social protection approaches into its social protection policies,” said the statement.

It said the government is committed to ensuring social protection for all and building a resilient and inclusive society. In 2020, The National Social Security Fund (NSSF) ensured 80,000 female garment workers received maternity allowances from the government, totalling $7.9 million. During the Covid-19 pandemic, workers who were laid-off received support in the form of cash transfer programmes.

The statement said INSPIRE and partners will help to further leverage the NSSF and address the remaining barriers to social protection among apparel industry employees, particularly contract workers.

Oxfam is committed to working with and supporting the government and stakeholders to reduce poverty and inequality among apparel industry employees – especially those who are employed through informal arrangements, the majority of them women – by enhancing their access to inclusive social protection, it said.

“Having access to social protection is critical for them and their households, as it helps sustain their wellbeing and build resilience, and reduces the risks associated with global shocks like the pandemic,” said Sophoan Phean, Oxfam country director.

Jill Tucker, head of labour rights programme at the Laudes Foundation, said contributory social security schemes like the NSSF strengthen the social contract and provide a basis for workers to demand support and protection when they experience illness, workplace injuries or economic shocks.

“Fulfilling this promise hinges in part on workers’ voices being better represented and reflected in policy discussions. Through collaboration with Oxfam on the INSPIRE initiative, we believe apparel industry workers in Cambodia will be able to access the benefits they are entitled to under the NSSF,” she said.

The project will mean working and collaborating with several strategic partners including the National Social Protection Council, NSSF, and the ministries of labour, finance, and women’s affairs – along with international branding companies and apparel industry employers and other stakeholders.

This project is expected to benefit a total of 23,000 individuals directly and 735,000 indirectly. In addition, it is anticipated that approximately 1,000,000 individuals will be sensitised by the awareness raising campaigns and communication activities foreseen under the project, the statement said.