SL Garment Protesters Gain Little From Talks at Labor Ministry

A two-day meeting between union leaders, senior government officials and representatives of the SL Gar­ment Factory failed Tuesday to reach a solution for factory workers, who have been on strike since early August and on Monday demonstrated in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence.

Ath Thorn, director of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), said that while the meeting—which began Monday in an attempt to diffuse a tense standoff between some 2,000 garment workers and 200 riot police near Mr. Hun Sen’s home—was not a complete failure, representatives of the factory refused to consider back pay for the three months the workers have been striking.

“If the company [had] agreed to compensate [the workers] during the strike, this would solve all the problems,” Mr. Thorn said Tuesday after the meeting, which was also attended by Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong, Labor Minister Ith Samheng, about 10 union leaders and the factory’s owner, Wong Hong Ming.

Mr. Thorn said that Mr. Wong had agreed to two of the workers’ demands—the removal of plain-clothed military police being used to guard the factory and the reinstatement of a work schedule that includes half-hour meal breaks.

Mr. Samheng agreed to talk to Meas Sotha, a shareholder in the company who workers blame for the presence of armed forces at the factory.

But Mr. Wong, whose company makes clothing for Gap and H&M, immediately dismissed the idea of back pay.

“The meeting was somewhat positive, but we didn’t agree on everything, and we must continue to meet [with union leaders],” said Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, who was also present.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the idea of getting paid for work you haven’t done is “unreasonable.”

“Workers have this misconception that they are due wages even though they are on strike,” Mr. Loo said. “It is totally wrong, regardless of the reason behind the strike,” he added.

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