Hun Sen Promises Cheaper Water Bills for Garment Workers

In yet another bid to shore up the garment worker vote ahead of next year’s general election, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday promised to lower their water prices and offered more details about a pending pension plan.

In a speech to thousands of factory employees at the Vattanac II industrial park on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the premier said that as of Friday, the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority would cut the rate it charges landlords renting rooms to garment workers in the city from 1,030 riel per cubic meter (about $0.25) to 700 riel.

Prime minister Hun Sen meets with garment workers at Vattanac II industrial park on Wednesday, in a photograph posted to his Facebook page.

In turn, he said, those landlords will have to lower the price they sell water to their tenants from 1,200 riel to 800 riel.

Mr. Hun Sen also repeated his pledge to lean on landlords not to raise their rents for the next year.

Garment workers regularly complain about landlords increasing rents every time they get a raise, wiping out much of their extra take-home pay.

The prime minister has been showering the garment sector’s estimated 700,000 workers with new benefits since early last week in a string of speeches to thousands of workers at a time around Phnom Penh.

Without asking for their votes outright, he has peppered them with pleas to thank the ruling CPP for their jobs and bashed the opposition CNRP, which drew strong support from garment workers during the last general election in 2013.

The new benefits include free rides on Phnom Penh’s public buses as of this month, health insurance contributions fully covered by their employers come next year, and pensions by 2019.

Mr. Hun Sen has offered almost no details about the pension plan. On Wednesday, however, he said garment workers will have to work for 25 years to qualify.

“The pension does not mean you just work today and get a pension. You must work for 25 years,” he said.

Khim Muoyly, 32, who has worked at a Phnom Penh garment factory for nearly 10 years, heard the premier’s speech online. She said her landlords were charging her 3,000 riel per cubic meter for water and was skeptical that they would listen to the prime minister.

“I don’t think the landlords will reduce the price for us. They won’t follow him because they would lose profit, not unless the authorities come here to instruct them,” she said.

Ms. Muoyly also said that 25 years was far too long to qualify for a pension. “There are no workers who can work for 25 years. I think maybe 10 to 15 years is possible,” she said.

As for her vote, Ms. Muoyly said she wanted to see whether all of Mr. Hun Sen’s promises kick in—at least those scheduled for next year or sooner—before deciding who to cast it for.

“I cannot trust him yet,” she said. “Let’s wait and see first.”

Mr. Hun Sen has also promised garment workers a raise next year, though he has sent out mixed messages about how much. In his speeches he has said that the currently monthly minimum wage of $153 would rise to at least $160. In his Facebook posts he has repeatedly said the wage would increase to at least $168. Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said the true figure was $160.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen also announced that National Road 3 from Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao roundabout to Kampot City—a distance of about 75 km—would be widened so that two-thirds of the road would accommodate four lanes, while the remainder would stay at two lanes.

The road had previously been expanded from 7 to 9 meters wide by a South Korean project, Mr. Hun Sen said, but he did not provide further details about the new proposal.

The current road was inappropriate considering the sea trade coming into Kampot as well as Sihanoukville further south, he said.

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