Stranded migrant workers waiting on ticket home from Jordan4 min read

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A Facebook video shows employees of Vega Textile and Camel Textile garment factories walking near their workplace in Jordan, where they have been stuck without pay or months, on July 4. Panha Chhorpoan
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Factory owners have said they would buy plane tickets home for more than 20 Cambodian migrant workers who have been trapped in Jordan without employment or income for more than three months after a meeting this week.

Khun Tharo, program manager at labor rights group Central, said representatives of Vega Textile and Camel Textile garment factoriesin Al-Karak, Jordan, met with officials from the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt and Cambodian garment workers on July 7 and promised to buy air tickets for the 21 workers, although they have yet to do so.

“The company called the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt and Cambodian workers to meet and the company promised to buy plane tickets for workers at the end of July or the beginning of August,” Tharo said.

The Labor Alliance and Human Rights Center (Central) issued a statement on July 2 calling on the Cambodian government to immediately intervene to facilitate the return of the workers, who have been stranded without employment or income since their contracts were terminated on March 17.

Tharo added that after Central released its statement, the company had threatened the migrant workers for reporting them.

“Now they are concerned about their safety because after we issued the statement, the company threatened them,” Tharo said. “As the statement says, we request the factory owners there help them buying air tickets for them soon and providing necessary payments based on Jordanian labor law.”

CamboJANews reached out to the workers, but they said they were too afraid to talk with the media.

According to Central, the workers were able to hold an initial meeting with Jordanian Labor Ministry officials on June 29, after the company had blocked them from doing so several times.

In that meeting they were able to make their demands for a plane ticket and social protection benefits.

Tharo noted that Central had contacted thepartner factories of Vega Textile and Camel Textile in Cambodia for more information about the workers’ situation.

He said representatives from those factories had in turn contacted workers stuck in Jordan to update them regarding their pending plane tickets, and said they would push the company to provide them with social security funding for July.

Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesman Koy Kuong said he was aware that the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt was working on the case.

“The factory owners tried to book air tickets for our migrant workers who need to return to Cambodia but they could not … but the owners promised that they will try to buy air tickets for our migrant workers when there are flights from Jordan,” Kuong said. 

He added that he had received information from the Cambodian Embassy in Egypt that the factory owners had promised to buy the flight tickets at the end of July.

According to Central’s July 2 statement, based on Jordan’s rules for migrant workers and the workers’ agreements with their companies, the factories are responsible for purchasing their flight tickets back to Cambodia when the contract is terminated.

“Vega Textile and Camel Textile have not purchased these tickets, nor informed workers when the tickets will be purchased,” the statement says. “In addition, Vega Textile and Camel Textile have failed to pay social insurance moneys previously cut from these workers’ salaries, which amount to approximately US$1,000 per person.”

“As a result, these Cambodian workers have been trapped in Jordan without employment or income for over three months,” the statement continues.

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, the statement says.

Central noted that a group of Burmese workers employed at the two factories underwent a similar experience in recent months. On June 24, the migrant workers spoke publicly about their hardships in Jordan through interviews with the media. 

By June 29, the Myanmar Embassy in Israel had arranged repatriation flights for the workers, including some from Vega Textile and Camel Textile.

“The Myanmar Government should be applauded for its swift intervention to rescue Burmese citizens trapped abroad,” Moeun Tola, executive director of Central said in the statement. “The Cambodian Government should follow Myanmar’s example and, as it did for Cambodians trapped in Malaysia, liaise with airline companies to organize repatriation for these Cambodian citizens trapped in Jordan without employment or income.”

Tharo said that more than 300 Cambodian garment factory workers had gone to Jordan starting seven years ago through a partnership with a local factory named Lotus, but when that factory closed, most had returned home, leaving only 41.

“Now, there are 41 Cambodian workers in Jordan and 28 of them are unemployed,” Tharo said.

Vega Textile and Camel Textile in Jordan could not be reached for comment.

A representative for Gap Inc, which sources clothing from the two factories in Jordan and other factories in Cambodia, said the issue was beyond the scope of responsibilities of Gap’s local branch and referred questions to the company’s headquarters, which could not be reached in time for publication.

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