Working Papers   140

Impact on the Lives and Livelihoods of Factory Workers during COVID-19

Published: 01-Jun-2023
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This study analyses the impacts of COVID-19 on the lives and livelihoods of workers in the garment, textile and footwear manufacturing in Cambodia, a sector which employed approximately 800,000 people (80 percent of whom were female) and contributed about 70 percent to the country’s annual total export value prior to the pandemic. The analysis examines potential disproportionate effects of the pandemic on women and men, focusing on earnings, consumption and remittances, possible conflicts at home and workplace, mental health, coping strategies and receipts of in-cash and in-kind assistance from the government, development partners and non-governmental organisations. The study uses a dataset of 2,000 workers surveyed by phone between 10 June and 18 July 2021. The phone survey was employed in leu of the usual face-to-face interviews due to health and administrative restrictions by the government to curb the transmission rate of the infection. The sampling design was a twostage stratified random sample in which a representative number of factories and workers were randomly chosen in the first and second stage, respectively.

In relation to the economic shock, the results show a significant loss of earnings, mainly wages, before and during COVID-19. The loss ranged between 38.6 and 40.4 percent with an average of 39.5 percent. Female respondents reported a higher loss of earnings than their male counterparts (40.2:36.9 percent). There is no statistically significant impact on the loss of earnings by age group and marital status, indicating that COVID-19 has affected earnings of young or old and single or married workers in equal measure. Nonetheless, the economic impacts were severe among workers who were laid off and suspended with an average loss of wage earnings ranging between 38.8 percent and 58.8 percent. The loss of earnings had spill-over effects on food and non-food consumption and remittances. Both female and male respondents reported reduced food and non-food consumption and smaller remittances to relatives in their hometowns (from USD103 to USD71 for female; from USD109 to USD83 for male). The respondents reported a 35.3 percent reduction in food consumption compared to 48.4 percent in non-food consumption. Female respondents reported a bigger cut in non-food consumption than their male counterparts.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased the time spent on domestic and unpaid care work, particularly among women. Household members spent more time at home, including children due to school closures (subsidised by online classes) which contributed to the increase. Female respondents saw a 56.4 percent increase in time taking care of children in comparison to before and during COVID-19 compared to a 38.1 percent rise for male respondents. The results also indicate that very few of the male respondents reported time taking care of children as a reason for the increased time spent on domestic and unpaid care work during COVID-19, implying that childcare is mainly a woman’s responsibility. The pandemic also affected mental health and how the respondents viewed lives during the economic hardship. The average score of the WHO-5 well-being indicators was below 50 (47.8), indicating pessimism of economic wellbeing. The score for male respondents was significantly lower than that of females (29.5:52.5).

The respondents adopted several coping strategies to mitigate the negative shock of COVID-19, the most common three were: i) loans from friends/relatives; ii) reduced food and non-food consumption and, iii) receiving in-cash and in-kind assistance from the government and other non-governmental organisations. Savings were also used, albeit only in 15 percent of cases. There is no statistical difference of the use of coping strategies between female and male respondents surveyed. 

The government was quick to provide short-term cash support through its cash transfer program to the workers. Approximately 6 out of 10 respondents (or their household members) reported receiving cash support from the government since March 2020. The average monthly cash receipt was USD43.1 (USD40.6-45.7). There is no difference in the amount of cash assistance received between female and male respondents. That is, females received on average USD43.5 per month compared to USD42.3 for male.

We provide the following policy suggestions to the government and other relevant stakeholders.

  • Continued assistance remains necessary to help mitigate the shock, particularly for female workers who have more dependents (children and elders) living in the household or in their hometown. Receiving government assistance was the third most common coping strategy by the surveyed workers, indicating that the assistance could provide immediate relief during the difficult time when other options were limited.
  • Financial literacy, particularly on the use of loans and the importance of saving during times of prosperity, should be considered. Although the respondents used savings to mitigate the shock, only a few had the option because the majority of the survey respondents did not save, or insufficiently did so, pre-pandemic. The program should target both females and males.
  • Targeting mechanisms should be considered a long-term action plan as it remains challenging to identify beneficiaries for support. The results show that 39.2 percent of the respondents did not receive government support, citing no knowledge of the program.
  • Re-skilling and up-skilling should remain a priority for workers in this sector. As shown, the majority of the surveyed workers, currently employed, suspended or terminated, had limited knowledge of the government’s existing programs to help them obtain new or better skills. They were also unwilling to invest time and money in the cause.
  • Awareness raising among men on the shared responsibility of domestic and unpaid care work (childcare and elders) should be done as most male respondents viewed care work as a women’s responsibility.

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