Sopheap's Safeguarding for Garment Workers

It has been challenging to fight for better social protection and negotiate to improve workers' rights and benefits through collective agreements.
Sopheap, Garment Worker

Ms Im Sopheap, 33, was born and raised in a family of farmers in Kompong Cham province. In 2005, the income from farming alone was unsustainable and not enough to live on for an entire family of seven people. Sopheap decided to come to Phnom Penh in search of job opportunities, and for the past 16 years, she has been working in a garment factory to ease her family's financial burden.

She works eight hours a day and six days a week, and sometimes she also works on Sundays only to earn about $280 a month. As Sopheap could recall, 2013 was the worst year she experienced as a factory worker. She witnessed factory's owners forcing workers to work overtime, many staff were laid-off, pregnant women did not get maternity benefits, and short-term employment contracts were a common way to hire workers without legal obligations. Above all, most workers were afraid of losing their jobs and chose to remain silent despite all those mistreatments and abuses.

Witnessing such injustice for more than ten years, Sopheap felt frustrated and anxious and wanted to do something to help the workers. In 2017, she took part to form a union within the factory where she worked with the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU). She was appointed to the General Secretary at that time. Currently, Sopheap is a union leader.

Sopheap said that as a part of CCAWDU, the union conducts various activities to raise awareness and empower workers' rights. "We keep our members informed through training and knowledge sharing about union law and labour law so that they know what is going on around our working conditions and situation," she said.

With the union's vision to empower workers' rights and improve their work conditions, more and more workers join the union. The union keeps growing—now, almost every worker in the factory is a member of this union, counting nearly 600 members.

"It has been challenging to fight for better social protection and negotiate to improve workers' rights and benefits through collective agreements. But only in this way we all can have better working conditions and improve our living," Sopheap said.

Sopheap is happy to see the collective agreement put into practice. The factory provides workers with better maternity benefits and entitlements than the primary benefits stated in the labour law. This includes eight additional days of the 90 days maternity leave days stipulated by the labour law and an extra $20 for nursing and childcare until their children are 18 months old. Also, all workers receive additional food allowance during overtime and have access to social protection schemes through the National Social Security Fund (NSSF).

In her role as a union leader, Sopheap said the social protection practice could improve. "Our workers report that when they use NSSF for health check-up or medical treatment, often the process is slow, and workers get less priority." She urged the government and relevant stakeholders to improve the quality of medical services, make social insurance procedures more efficient with more friendly customer service, and implement a pension scheme as soon as possible.