People in Phnom Penh splash water on each other and play games during Khmer New Year public holidays. (Khmer Times photo)
After years of lobbying by the private sector for reduced public holidays, Cambodia has finally relented to slice off seven days in the name of productivity and making itself competitive.
The surprise move is evidence of a fever felt by Cambodia on the possible withdrawal of the Everything-but-arms (EBA) trade scheme. Over the months since the announcement of the possible withdrawal by the European Union, measures either political or trade-linked are being implemented to show its seriousness in honouring the terms in the privilege accorded to least developed countries.
The long-overdue move made Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia deputy secretary-general Kaing Monika beam.
“This is what we have been asking for. Less public holidays mean more production days,” the on Monday quoted him as saying.
A high number of public holidays amid rising minimum wages and strong workers’ unions impact the sector’s growth as it results in production “down time”.
“We are now working 2,112 hours per year. Seven days off the list would mean 56 hours of production time or an increase of 2.6% of production output. This positive news will have far-reaching effects in the manufacturing sector,” Monika said.
Last week, Industry and Handicraft Minister Cham Prasidh said a sub-decree on the reduced public holidays would be issued by the end of March. He is aware of the calls made by the business community, and that Cambodia has more public holidays than other countries.
The country has some 30 public holidays a year, making it the second highest civil and religious celebrants in Southeast Asia after Malaysia which has the most days at 50 a year. Thailand comes in third with 26 holidays annually.
According to the Japanese think-tank Asian Productivity Organisation tasked with preparing the National Productivity Plan (2020-2030) for Cambodia, the average productivity per annum needs to be 5.2% to support economic expansion. This is assuming the workforce grows 1.9% annually.
Prasidh says besides cutting some holidays, the government is also reducing some public ceremonies so more time is allocated for production.
“If we have many days off, companies have to spend more on overtime, which means less profit because producers pay more for this work. Usually workers do overtime to meet increased or urgent orders,” he said.
Having said that, he stressed that industries must show higher productivity once the holidays are hived off, adding that the government would implement other measures to strengthen the country’s economy.
“When we strengthen ourselves, we can survive even without the EBA,” he said.
In 2017, the EU market accounted for 40% or US$5.77 billion out of Cambodia’s total exports.
But there’s a damper on future exports following the launch of a six-month monitoring period by EU over the Kingdom that could lead to the end of preferential treatment.
One of Cambodia’s large rice exporters Amru Rice (Cambodia) Co says trading nearly halts during public holidays as ports, logistic firms, and government offices are closed.
“I support the government’s decision as we can finally become competitive. We have an average of 28 official holidays a year while Vietnam has around 10 days. We are impacted by that and also the fact that our minimum wages keep rising,” its vice president and managing director Kann Kunthy said.