Workers Protest After Factory Owner Disappears

More than 30 workers from a bankrupt Chinese-owned garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district protested Tuesday outside the municipal court calling for the issuance of an injunction to ensure the factory’s 300 former employees receive their severance pay.

Kui Xing factory, a subcontractor for Sun Sky factory in Pur Senchey district, shut down on February 1 after 12 years of operations when its owner declared bankruptcy and went missing, according to unionists and the Labor Ministry, leaving 300 workers without the severance pay that they are entitled to under the Labor Law.

A worker from the Kui Xing garment factory holds up a photograph of Prime Minister Hun Sun during a protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A worker from the Kui Xing garment factory holds up a photograph of Prime Minister Hun Sun during a protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Bun Kanika, 27, a representative of the workers, said that since the closure, workers have been camping out in shifts inside the factory to keep watch over more than 200 sewing machines as a measure to prevent the owner from selling the equipment and making off with the cash rather than paying them.

However, the workers hope to return to their hometowns in the provinces over the Khmer New Year holiday next month, and are seeking an injunction to bar the factory from selling off the equipment during that time.

“We are trying our best to appeal to many institutions, as the Labor Ministry promised us to ask the Phnom Penh court to issue the injunction to protect the sewing machines during Khmer New Year” when the workers will go to visit their families in the provinces, Ms. Kanika said.

Ms. Kanika said that many of the workers had been at the factory—which opened 12 years ago—for more than five years, and were owed compensation for the abrupt loss of their jobs in addition to severance packages.

A representative from the court came out to meet with the protesters, telling them that no letter had been received from the Labor Ministry, but declined to speak to a reporter.

Vong Sovann, deputy director of the Labor Ministry’s labor conflict department, said he received the workers’ complaint on Friday, but that the case was now beyond the purview of his department and it was up to their union to file any complaint to the court.

“I think maybe the owner escaped because I never met him, and now the case is beyond our jurisdiction, so let the court decide, but if in the future the owner does not come, [the court] might have to issue an order and sell all the sewing machines,” he added.

Pov Hout, Chbar Ampov I commune chief, said it was not his responsibility to find the factory owner, but that he nevertheless had told his officers to keep an eye out for him, as well as to protect the equipment from being taken from the factory to be sold.

“I have ordered military police, police and security guards to drive on patrols every day,” Mr. Hout said.

Free Trade Union president Chea Mony referred questions about whether his union—which counts some of the workers among its members—would file a complaint to the court to Khem Phanith, an FTU official. Mr. Phanith claimed the Labor Ministry had promised to send the complaint.

The factory’s administrators could not be reached.

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