It was 9am on Sunday. A 50.-year old woman was sitting on the wooden bed in front of a small cottage near the new-built wooden house, chatting with her old mother and daughter, who has been suspended their job since March because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Living in Toul Baray village, Kampong Speu province, Pich Poy, is a widow with five children. Poy said about three years ago, the family enjoyed decent money but after her three older children got married, they respond to the needs of their own families. Now Poy relies on her two single children to feed the family.
“Before it was OK, but now we are suffering. We need to pay for water, electricity, food including rice,” she said. “I already sold a cow a week ago and, if my daughter and son cannot find a job in the next two months, I may sell one more cow or sell a motorcycle.”
Chim Manyan, 18, is Poy’s daughter, who is now unemployed after the factory she worked for in Kampong Speu province closed in March.
“I have had no job for about two months. They told us there is nothing to do, so the factory has to close. I now have no income. Not a single dollar,” she said.
When she was working, Manyan and her brother, whose job was also suspended, earned a combined $500 to $550 per month with 80 percent of their salaries given to their mother for family expenditure, mainly to repay borrowed money.
The family took a microfinance loan of $15,000 in 2018 to build a new house and buy a new motorbike among other things. Her repayments amounted about $350 per month schedule over six years.
“Now we are asking for three months exemption from the bank, but we have yet to receive a reply. I don’t know whether they will agree or not for our request of an interest-only rate repayment,” she said.
About 15 kilometer from the province city centre, the village has seen a lot of progress. The villagers now can access electricity and clean water while big new-built brick and wooden houses are emerging to replace the old small dwellings.
Currently most families in the countryside depend entirely on their children who work for garment factories. Capital Cambodia interviewed a lot of families who have been affected in the village and the same issue is debt burden.
25-year old, Chim Sreynich, is another suspended garment worker in the village. She and her husband have been suspended since early April.
Sreynich, who is now four months pregnant, had been working as a garment worker for about seven years.
“The factory I worked for didn’t close but they just laid-off about a half of the workers. I and my husband were on the list for suspension,” she said. “Now we haven’t had an income for about two months. Ee don’t have money to pay off our loan.”
Sreynich along with her husband is like other suspended workers in the village. She is seeking a microfinance loan to temporary exempt repayments for a period of time.
“I have called to the bank asking for help and they promised to see us this May, so I am just waiting to see if they could provide some exemption,” she said.
Sreynich and her husband earned a combined $500 and $600 depending on overtime per month. She needs to pay $350 per month of the loan to the bank from which she borrowed $15,000 for six years.
“They lent it to us because we were working in a garment factory. Now I could not work somewhere else. my husband can get a job as a construction worker periodically but it is not regular pay. He sometime can just work for only a week and earn around $50,” she said.
The pandemic has caused hundreds of factories to suspend operations or close, affected millions of households.
The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) in March, issued a directive to all banks and financial institutions to restructure loans in order to maintain financial stability, support economic activity and ease the burden of debtors facing major revenue declines who may find it difficult to repay loans during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Late inApril, the NBC requested financial institutions to reduce credit-related fees and lift fines until the end of December 2020.
Say Sony, senior vice-president and chief marketing management of PRASAC MFI said that it is one of the leading MFIs making strong efforts to support customers affected by COVID-19.
He said so far there are few clients requesting to reschedule loans because they have no income from their business during this period, especially clients in priority sectors.
“To respond to clients’ requests, we assess their situation and discuss with them in order to find appropriate solutions and acceptable to both parties,” he said, adding that to keep growing together for those clients who are not affected or slightly affected, and are able to pay their debt, they are required to pay as normal. “So that we can use this opportunity to help the most affected clients,” he said.
According to Say, the most affected people are in Siem Reap province, where many tourism-based businesses closed down.
“We have been implementing and solving the issues based on their internal principal, based on the type of customers, the impact on and theactual situation for each customer by aligning them with guidelines from the National Bank of Cambodia,” he added.
According to GMAC, nearly 200 factories have suspended operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting 200,000 workers.
The government has announced a $40 incentive per month for workers and staff in the tourism sector who are laid off from their job because if the pandemic. It’s asking the companies to subsubise a further $30.
Heng Sour, the Ministry of Labour’s spokesmen said that, workers who are in the official suspension list by after labour inspection after Khmer New Year will receive the assistance cash without attending special training. However, those whowerere in the official suspension list by the labour inspector before Khmer New Year must fulfill soft-skill training.
“Only those who have registered with theGeneral Department of Taxation (GDT) can apply for this and the only those who legally register are eligible for assistance,” he added.
The Labour Ministry last week, launched training for more than 400 suspended garment workers of the Broadland Cambodia Garment Industries in the capital’s Meanchey district.
Chim Sreynich said that she was informed to get the government’s assistance of $40 and $30 from her factory per month.
“I have received anf of the money yet and they told me that the money will be sent via myWing account next month,” she said. “With this amount, we can’t even pay the interest rate but it’ss better than nothing,” she said.