Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Over 100 Garment Workers Demand Company’s Reinstatement of Union Leaders

Officials from Kampong Speu Provincial Department of Labor at the factory during the workers’ protest on February 3, 2024. (Supplied)
Officials from Kampong Speu Provincial Department of Labor at the factory during the workers’ protest on February 3, 2024. (Supplied)

More than 100 garment workers at Shengbo Garment Factory Ltd in Kampong Speu province protested on​​​ Saturday, demanding the reinstatement of two workers, who were fired after their election as union leaders in the factory. 

Seak Thong, vice president of the independent union​, called his termination by the factory as unfair. Independent unions protect the interest and rights of workers, and prevent them from being discriminated against by factory owners, he said. “I’m sad that I cannot be with the workers anymore as I have lost my job for no reason.”

Chinese-owned Shengbo Garment, which produces women’s clothing for Spanish brand MNG and Italy’s Calliope for export to Europe, employs over 700 workers. It began operation in March 2023.

This is the second protest in the factory. The first time was on February 2, this year, where nearly 200 workers protested in front of the factory, according to Thong, who 

claimed that the factory administration was aware of the election.

He was contacted by the administration, which urged him to “resign” from the independent union and join the factory-managed union​ with the bosses. He was told that he would enjoy increased benefits from the factory, but he declined the offer.

“I refused them and he [administration] threatened me that if I did not agree, I [might become] unemployed. He could not guarantee [my job] because [he said] if he had known earlier [about the union], he would have ended the contract faster.”

Thon Thy said on January 31, 2024  the assistant of line five told him that the president of the factory called him and Thong to meet at the office and told them “not to renew the employment contract”.

“I can’t accept this because I didn’t do anything wrong. This clearly shows union discrimination in the factory​. We had already informed the factory owner about the election but they refused to accept an independent union.”

Officials from Kampong Speu Provincial Department of Labor at the factory during the workers’ protest on February 3, 2024. (Supplied)

On January 9, 2024, the elected members directly informed the company of the election result through administration director Am Mony, but it was rejected. The same day, the members informed them again via post.

Two days later, the elected members applied for registration at the Department of Labor Dispute of the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training.

However, the company only informed Thy and Thong on January 31 not to renew their employment contract.

Yet, Thy hopes that the factory owner would reinstate them, and not discriminate against local unions in the factory. They also asked relevant ministries to check on the enforcement of the labor law in the factory.

“I hope the ministry and the factory owner will resolve this problem by accepting us and other elected independent union [members] to work in the factory like normal to protect workers’ interests.

“We also urge the factory owner to respect the Kingdom’s labor law and union rights, and not harass the workers.”
Mony, administrator of Shengbo factory, told CamboJA on Monday morning​ that protests will no longer be held. “All workers will return to work as normal.”

He also denied the workers’ allegations of union discrimination. “We don’t discriminate against unions. The termination of the contracts was a result of reduced production. “

When asked to reveal the name of the buyer, which apparently reduced orders, he declined to answer. “I can’t say the name as it’s confidential.”

Touch Soeu, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC)​ said factories commit “serious mistakes by dismissing workers without prior notice”, which is illegal and discriminatory against post-election free trade unions.

Soeu alleged that Shengbo “always terminates workers” when they learn about employees who stand as candidates in union elections to protect workers’ interests. “It isn’t the first time the Shengbo factory threatened [workers] of unions, which aren’t under the factory.”

Ministry spokesman Kata Orn acknowledged that a request to form and register a union was received from Shengbo workers. On January 7, 2024, 10 union members were elected to form a union, in which Thon Thy was elected as union president, Seak Thong vice president and Preng Chealy as secretary.

On January 11,2024, the union submitted a registration form to the Dispute Department. On January 25, 2024, the department received a letter from Shengbo stating that the company was against the registration of a free trade union as the leadership, founder and secretary had “resigned from the union”.

On January 1, 2024, the ministry’s Fourth Labor Dispute Office received a complaint from Thy and Thong, the elected union president and vice president, respectively.

Orn said employers will provide information regarding the issue on February 13, 2024, he said, adding that the case is being processed.

“The ministry mediated and explained the union side and the workers. So far, the workers have not protested and are back to work. Separately, the ministry continues to coordinate and resolve the issues of the two [Thy and Thong].”

Khun Tharo, program manager for the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said this was the second time Shengbo factory has persecuted independent unions during nomination and post-election stage.

Due to the continued persecution of workers and suppression of workers’ rights, the new union members initiated the idea of ​​forming an independent union in the factory to protect workers’ interests.

“This is the second time the company has terminated employment contracts after an independent union was formed in the factory. The first was in November 2023 and the worker has not returned to work in the factory yet.”

“It also highlights the discrimination against local unions, which are protected by union privileges, and the factory’s lack of respect for labor rights in the Kingdom,” Tharo said.

In November 2023, ex-union leader Roeun Kolap was fired after she joined the independent union. Her labor dispute over her dismissal is pending at the Kampong Speu Provincial Court, he added.