After withholding years-worth of owed wages from employees, the bus company Giant Ibis Transport reached an agreement earlier this month to comply with the labor law and pay compensation to 30 laid off union workers who have been protesting for months.
But the company has since failed to deliver the compensation by the agreed upon May 22 deadline following an agreement signed by the company on May 13, according to union leader Siem Morady and documents seen by CamboJA.
“The company was due to pay us laid off workers by May 22,” Morady says. “However, the company now seems in total silence.”
The 30 Giant Ibis Transport union members say they are legally owed severance and seniority payments — allegedly amounting to well over $100,000 — which have not been provided since 80 employees were laid off in April 2020.
In negotiations, Giant Ibis Transport representative Ou Phanny — who signed the agreement on behalf of the company — told the laid off union members they would receive their withheld wages but would not be reinstated, Morady said.
Phanny allegedly shouted and behaved aggressively towards the union representatives during the negotiation process at the Labor Ministry, Morady said.
“He ranted and threatened to provoke violence against employees,” Morady said. “This image looks brutal in Cambodia. He did not care, while he leaned on power from the powerful person.”
Morady referred to tycoon Kith Meng, whose conglomerate Royal Group launched Giant Ibis Transport. Morady and others say Meng is the company’s real owner, even though the connection between Royal Group and the bus company is not identified in public records.
Royal Group did not respond to requests for comment. Kith Meng could not be reached.
Morady and other union members accuse Giant Ibis Transport of effectively engaging in union-busting behavior. The company has also been actively recruiting new workers instead of rehiring the laid off union drivers, Morady added.
“We have urged the company to take us back to work, but the company’s representatives failed to do so,” he said. “This is real discrimination against union members”.
Ou Phanny, who identified himself as a Giant Ibis Bus manager, denied the company was discriminating against union members and said he had not acted aggressively.
“Who said I used violence?” Phanny said, laughing. “It is not like that.”
The company claimed this week that it had miscalculated the payments owed to workers and needed more time, pushing back the deadline until June 7 which the union reluctantly agreed to, Morady said.
Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, which helped the Giant Ibis employees unionize in 2020, said that miscalculating the severance and seniority payment to laid-off employees was an excuse.
“This is real intimidation,” Thorn said. “The workers have agreed to take the money, although they are not taken back to normal work.”
“If the company claims that they need to calculate again, why do they take so long to just recalculate?” he added.
While non-union members have already been accepted back into the workforce, the union members have been required to renounce their legally owed benefits to resume working at the company, Morady said.
The exact payment for workers was not specified in the agreements, but Morady, a bus driver with the company, said the 30 workers are each owed around $7,000 to $8,000 including back pay since their suspension.
Cambodian labor law states that suspensions more than two months require permission from the Labor Ministry. The Labor Ministry did not respond to requests for comment as to whether this permission had been granted.
“The Labor Ministry works as a specialist to solve problems related to labor disputes, so if the company said they are unable to calculate, what about the ministry?” Ath Thorn said. “Unless they are biased towards the employer”.
Morady said he and representatives met with the Labor Ministry and the company on Thursday to discuss the payments workers were owed.
“The company is transparently seen to be holding out on this negotiation for their own benefit,” Morady said. “They said they need to project the total payback for the settlement with us. It’s just a company ploy.”
A letter shared with CamboJA shows that, as part of the negotiations, workers are prevented from protesting until the settlement was concluded.
More than a dozen other workers were unable to sign their names because they remained at their homes in the provinces and could not afford to travel to the city, Morady said.
“Now the negotiation is pushed back to June 7 and we do not know what will happen,” Morady added. “It has not come to an end yet. If they still do not comply, we will continue to protest.”