The Cambodian government has axed a number of public holidays in 2020: employers should prepare for the change.

In August 2019, Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, signed a sub-decree which reduced the number of public holidays in the country from 28 to 22 days in 2020. The move to cut the public holiday calendar is motivated by a desire to boost Cambodia’s productivity and competitiveness, although some observers suggested that it was potentially unfair on certain sections of the Cambodian workforce and could be damaging to the country’s historic and cultural interests.

Days Removed from Calendar

The reduction in public holidays in 2020 represents a major shake-up and affects some of Cambodia’s most culturally important celebrations and commemorations. The 6 holidays that have been affected or removed from the calendar are:

  • International Human Rights Day
  • International Children's Day
  • The Paris Peace Agreements Day
  • Meak Bochea Day
  • The National Day of Remembrance
  • King Norodom Sihamoni’s birthday (reduced by 3 days to 1)

The Prime Minister cited increasing wage levels and specific comparisons with “rich countries” when announcing the reduction in public holidays: “Singapore has only 11 public holidays, while Cambodia has from 28 to 30 public holidays... If we don’t do this, all businesses would run away from us.”

Prime Minister Sen suggested that the reduction in holidays could be mitigated by other adjustments, including keeping the number of public holidays the same but requiring employees to work on some of them. Similarly, other holidays such as Khmer New Year or Pchum Ben, could become longer to compensate for the time loss.

Cultural Sensitivities

While the loss of public holidays is intended to boost Cambodia’s economic performance, some, such as the Buddhist festival, Meak Bochea, and the National Day of Remembrance, which commemorates victims of the Khmer Rouge, hold special cultural relevance in Cambodia.

Executive Director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), Chak Sopheap, agreed with the need to change the holiday schedule, but pointed out that Cambodia is committed to certain civil and human rights principles which are embodied by the holidays themselves. Sopheap suggested that some of those holidays could be merged into a single day which would come to represent “the spirit of respect for and protection of human rights, as well as the necessity for national reconciliation and independence”.

Similarly, Pav Sina, president of Cambodia’s Collective Union of Movement of Workers, has called for the government to reconsider the holiday cuts, pointing out that some employees, such as garment workers are actually incentivised to work on public holidays thanks to bonuses.

What Should Employers Do?

Employers have time to adjust to Cambodia’s 2020 holiday schedule and should start preparing their payrolls for the new system now. Prime Minister Sen announced that he would be willing to consider further adjustments to the public holiday schedule as part of future discussions with the private sector. Some observers have suggested that Cambodia should widely adopt a flexible work schedule, and that employees and employers should coordinate more closely in order to decide which holidays will be observed during the year.

Prime Minister Sen has also announced that additional economic reforms will be introduced to reinforce the country’s economic performance.

For more information on Cambodian payroll and workers’ rights, browse activpayroll’s Global Payroll page.

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