Garment workers petition Hun Sen after weeks with no resolution4 min read

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Pur Senchey district authorities block a group of factory workers from submitting a petition at Hun Sen’s cabinet on July 1. Panha Chhorpoan
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More than 100 garment workers on Wednesday submitted a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet to ask the premier to help them find a solution after the workers have demanded for weeks that the shuttered factory’s owner comply with their pay demands.

Bou Sokhom, 34, a representative of the about 700 employees at the Korean-owned Hana (Cambodia) 1 Inc in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, said more than 100 garment workers gathered near Wat Botum on July 8 to submit their latest petition to prime minister Hun Sen’s cabinet officials.“Cabinet officials of Samdech Hun Sen received the petition from us already,” Sokhom said.

She noted that workers submitted the petition with the prime minister because the factory owner and Labor Ministry have not been able to find a solution that met all of the workers’ demands, including last salary, 5 percent severance payment, seniority indemnity pay, compensation and notice payment.

“The factory owners only settled three points for the workers including last salary, 5 percent of severance payment and seniority indemnity pay, but they did not settle for us two points including compensation and notice payment, so we demand a resolution for those two,” Sokhom said.

She said the factory owner informed workers suddenly that the factory had closed on June 22 due to the global Covid-19 outbreak and the next day, workers gathered in front of the factory to protest.

Labor Ministry officials tried to mediate between factory owners and employees, which led the owners to agree to pay workers for three of their demands on June 26.

Sokhom said that in a recent meeting between workers and factory owners on July 7, the owners once again declined to pay the workers for their final two demands, alleging that notice payment and compensation payments were unnecessary because workers had allegedly finished their contracts of their own accord.

“We tried to march to Samdech Hun Sen’s house a few times, but Pur Senchey district authority blocked us and they promised to help to facilitate a meeting with the factory owner but they could not solve it,” Sokhom said, referring to a march of 200 Hana employees that was blocked on July 1.

The Labor Ministry officials had told workers that during the Covid-19 period employees should accept the factory’s solution because the ministry had already determined that factories are not obligated to give notice payments to workers, she said.

“The Labor Ministry could not settle the problem for us, that’s why we submitted the petition to the cabinet of Samdech Hun Sen to help us,” Sokhom said.

Sokhom added that she and other workers cannot afford to pay rent or to cover their daily expenses. 

“Especially, most workers need money to pay the bank or microfinance institution,” Sokhom said, adding that she needed to pay back $200 per month to the bank.

Kong Chamroeun, an official in the prime minister’s cabinet, said that he received the petition from Hana 1 factory and will send it on.

“I received the petition from them already and I will send the petition to high levels to discuss that problem,” Chamroeun, declining to comment further.

Another worker Bun Chenda, 41, said that she had been employed at Hana 1 factory for seven years but she received only $524 when the factory closed, which was not fair because some workers who had been employed for a shorter period than her had received more pay.

“All workers got payments of three points between more than $100 to more than $500, so it is a small payment,” Chenda said. “Please Samdech Hun Sen help to solve this for us because it is an injustice for us.”

She said that more than two years ago, she had borrowed $4,000 from a bank to build a house and still needs to make consistent payments on the loan.

“Now we are facing difficulties. Some workers do not have money to buy rice for eating and some workers do not have money to pay rent and to buy milk for their babies,” Chenda said.

Ty Sothyda, manager of Hana (Cambodia) 1 Inc said that the factory had found a solution for the workers based on the law with the help of the Labor Ministry.

“According to a letter that the Labor Ministry clarified with GMAC, in the Covid-19 period, if a factory is bankrupt, the factory does not pay workers for two points [compensation and notice payment],” Sothyda said.

Sothyda said that before giving payments to the workers, the factory announced that if the workers found irregularities or problems with payments, they should not sign and instead can ask the factory or Labor Ministry officials to explain it to them.

Vong Sovann, a deputy secretary-general of the Committee for the Resolution of Strikes and Demonstrations at the Labor Ministry, just said that he and the committee’s secretary-general will meet with workers’ representatives and factory owners again to discuss their resolution.

“I and my secretary-general will meet with workers and factory owners again tomorrow morning to discuss with each other to continue to resolve this problem,” Sovann said July 8, before declining to comment further.

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