Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Y&W Garment Workers Receive Compensation, Will Look for New Jobs After Khmer New Year

Y&W Garment workers block the road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh as a part of their protest to demand a solution from the government, on March 22, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Y&W Garment workers block the road on the outskirts of Phnom Penh as a part of their protest to demand a solution from the government, on March 22, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Having received their compensation from March 22 to 25, Y&W Garment Co Ltd workers say they will start looking for jobs after Khmer New Year. Some have secured new jobs although work conditions were difficult compared to their old jobs. Pregnant workers, however, continue to face difficulties.

The payment settlement for Y&W workers was viewed as a model case for labor disputes owing to the government’s speedy intervention to resolve the matter by compensating workers following their demand and united action. 

Phan Borey, a union representative, opined that the Y&W case was special because the resolution was faster and the benefits were in accordance with legal procedures. He said this was the result of the workers working hand in hand to seek intervention.

“I think the Y&W case is a special case because our workers agreed with the request. It was a necessity and a dead-end as they have daily expenses such as bank payments. It means that they were involved in demanding and acting in unison, thus placing a burden on relevant parties. They [the authorities] sped up the settlement for our brothers,” said Borey.

He urged workers who are experiencing similar labor disputes elsewhere to take part in joint enforcement activities and find out the legal procedures so that they can receive compensation and common benefits.

A total of $3 million was set aside for 3,753 workers, who received between $250 and $1,300 while it was more for administrative staff. As for Borey, who will start looking for a job after Khmer New Year, the $937 compensation was satisfactory.

Basically, four out of five points of demand were met by the government. They consist of final wages, notification wages, short-term and indefinite contracts wages, and annual leave pay. The fifth point – reparation damage – was not approved by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training as the employer had provided a “reasonable reason” for the closure.

Regarding the mobile employment agencies set up by the ministry after they lost their jobs, Borey said many workers could not meet the job requirements. While some workers passed the test to work in the new place, they mentioned that the working conditions were difficult.

Another worker, Chin Panha, said she was satisfied with the $1,300 compensation she received after working in Y&W for eight years, adding that she will seek a new job after Khmer New Year.

Seven months pregnant Touch Theara, who worked at the factory for a year and a half received $250 compensation in March said she was not able to find work elsewhere as she will be giving birth in late June. 

She lamented that her life was getting hard because she was not able to sleep and eat well since the factory closed. She does not have enough money and her husband is also finding it hard to get a job. Although she was not happy with her compensation, Theara did not seek a further resolution. She asked the ministry officials several times for more money for her delivery but there has been no solution so far.

“I did not go again because there is no ministry to solve the problem for me anymore. They told me that they have already solved it. I [tried] to tell them that if they do not compensate me more, what will my future be like as I am about to give birth.” “ They don’t understand [my issue] and said they can only provide that amount. I asked what I could do with one million riel, what should I do with it? I can just pay the rent and children’s school fees. That’s all.”

“I just want to suggest. I am only asking for money to give birth. I don’t want anything more. Having 100,000 riel to 200,000 riel would be good, but that is not the case. In general, it is difficult.”  “Speaking of childbirth, I just want to cry because I never thought it would be so difficult. If I had a job like before, there would not be much difficulty as I’ve got some salary and my husband saved some,” she added. 

Cambodians usually return to their hometowns to reunite with their family on the eve of Khmer New Year, but Theara dared not return home this time as she felt embarrassed for not having any money.

Ministry spokesperson Kata Orn said Y&W factory issue is now closed. Asked via Telegram if the ministry would use Y&W as a model case for other work disputes, Orn said resolutions must be flexible depending on the case. 

For example, in Y&W, the employer ran away while a fire gutted R&G Footwear leaving the workers jobless. The ministry will strive to address labor issues in accordance with the law to ensure workers’ benefits.

He added that the budget allocated for the settlement of Y&W was from the deposit following the implementation of a court order on the sale of the factory property. 

When the factory owner absconded, Y&W workers marched to the ministry on March 9, 2024, seeking intervention as they had not been paid their salaries and benefits since February 15, 2024, which was in violation of the labor law.

Following a request for a protective order on March 11, 2024, the ministry declared on March 12, 2024, that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court had given a temporary order to confiscate the factory’s assets to pay 4,849 workers.

At the time, despite the announcement of a settlement and the fixing of a payment date by the ministry, hundreds of workers continued protesting at the Baku light station in the Dangkor district, calling for compensation in the form of “repair of damage” as their employer ran away.