How short-term contracts are putting Cambodia’s pregnant factory workers in a precarious position

Central’s Mouen Tola said it was a “serious problem” and the almost ubiquitous use of short-term contracts was at the heart of the matter.

How short-term contracts are putting Cambodia’s pregnant factory workers in a precarious position

Klien Savoeun’s hand absent-mindedly drifts to her stomach as she sits on a bamboo platform in her Sa’ang district home. Her lightly-freckled face breaks into a smile when asked if her incoming child is kicking.

“Yes, especially during the night time. It catches me by surprise,” she says. “I lie awake after the baby kicks.”

But in recent months, it’s not just the kicking keeping her awake. After her contract at a local garment factory was not renewed in November, the 32-year-old has worried about how to provide for her family when the baby comes in two months’ time.

Savoeun is just one of a number of women finding themselves out of a job at a crucial moment in their lives. Whether or not she and her coworkers at King Way Enterprises were deliberately targeted for being pregnant, or are merely casualties of an industry slowdown, is difficult to know.

But as an expectant mother, Savoeun is in a cohort more likely to lose their jobs than her peers, labour advocates say. It’s a problem exacerbated by the prevalence of short-term contracts that leave factory workers – 9 out of 10 of whom are women – without the protections of the labour law.

Despite a string of populist promises from Prime Minister Hun Sen – who has spent recent months launching a charm offensive seemingly aimed at wooing the garment worker voting bloc – women continue to face discrimination on the factory floor, seemingly at every stage of their pregnancy.

The premier has met multiple times a week with thousands of Cambodia’s garment workers, posing for selfies and promising them free health care, two years of free access to public buses and a $100 baby bonus.

Then, in a move that briefly heartened labour rights advocates, he took aim in a speech at the widespread use of short-term contracts – which last one, three or six months – calling for greater job security for workers.

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