More migrants return from Jordan, criticize work conditions4 min read

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Cambodian migrant workers pose for a group photo posted to labor rights NGO Central’s Facebook page on September 17 after the workers arrived at an airport in Jordan.
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As a second group of migrant workers returned from Jordan on September 17, employees of two garment factories there have recounted the strenuous conditions they faced, made worse after Covid-19 forced the companies to suspend operations and cut workers’ pay earlier this year.

Oen Sreyna, a 25-year old migrant worker who is now in self-quarantine in her hometown in Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralach district, said September 21 that she had gone to work at Camel Textile factory in Al-Karak, Jordan 2.5 years ago. She said she found the job through Cambodia-based Lotus factory, which began a partnership with the Vega and Camel Textile seven years ago.

“My contract was terminated a month before I came back to Cambodia,” Sreyna said, adding that as Covid-19 began spreading in Jordan earlier this year, she and other migrant workers were suspended for three months from March until June. She and dozens of other employees from Cambodia were compensated at 50 percent of their salary for the period.

Despite being asked to return to work, her contract was terminated in August, along with more than 20 other Cambodian migrants.

A group of 28 Cambodians working at Camel Textile and Vega Textile were never re-employed after the factories suspended operations in March and were repatriated to Cambodia on July 31, having gone months without pay.

While working in Jordan, Sreyna received between $200 and $300 per month, a salary similar to what she had previously earned while working in Cambodian factories, but under worse conditions.

“I worked without a rest hour and I had to arrive at the factory at 6:40am,” she said. “Work starts at 7am, but if we arrived at the factory at 6:50am, the factory administration officials would discipline us and would not allow us in. They ordered workers around like cows.”

The managers would then require employees to work until 12:30pm or 12:50pm, she said, at which point workers were allowed only a five or ten minute lunch break before returning to the factory floor, where they often stayed past 5pm. 

“Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, even though I worked extra hours, the factory owner did not pay us for the extra hours,” she said.

Upon leaving, the factory had provided her a total payment of about $900 to cover her insurance and benefits for the past two and a half years. However, she said Cambodian labor NGO Central had intervened to negotiate with the owner to ensure the group would be paid adequately after they initially declined to offer insurance payments.

Sreyna said she would not encourage other Cambodians to work in Jordan, as the conditions were unsatisfactory.

“I appeal to all Cambodian workers, please do not try to work there because they order workers to work over the time limit,” Sreyna said. “I think that work there is more difficult than in Cambodia.”

Both Vega Textile and Camel Textile are owned by a parent company based in Taiwan, which also operates two factories in Cambodia: Optimum Fashion Manufacturing Co., Ltd in Kampong Speu province and U.I.C Apparel Manufacturing Co., Ltd in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, according to a statement issued by Central in July.

According to Central, more than 300 Cambodian garment workers had gone to Jordan around seven years ago through a partnership with a local factory called Lotus, but most had returned home when that factory had closed.

Another migrant worker who returned on September 17, Suon Sina, 40, said she had gone to Jordan twice for work, returning for two years after her first stint.

“Now, I have returned to Cambodia because the factory has changed owners and they did not renew my work contract,” Sina said by phone from her home in Kampong Speu province’s Samroang Tong district.

She found the working conditions to be suitable, but said other employees struggled because the owners encouraged workers to compete with each other to see who could produce the most. The floor managers would reward those who produce the most garments, whereas those who did not meet their target were reprimanded.

“Most workers wanted to return to Cambodia because they are scared that they will be prevented from returning home due to Covid-19 disease,” Sina said.

She added that she received a payout of $1,300 for her four years of work at the factory.

Khun Tharo, program manager at Central, said sending migrant workers to Jordan without a memorandum of understanding in place between the two countries is illegal.

“We want the Labor Ministry and Foreign Affairs Ministry to re-assess whether Cambodian workers should be allowed to work in Jordan,” Tharo said.

He said the government should review and monitor the agencies or partner companies that are sending workers to the country, and estimated that there are still around 27 Cambodians working in Jordan.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong and Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment on September 21. 

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