Workers Urge Kandal Court to Hand Over Factory’s Deposit

Ahead of a court ruling on compensation expected on Wednesday, a group of garment workers staged a rally on Monday over wages still unpaid by a foreign-owned factory six months after it closed down.

The workers’ frustration was stoked after the factory’s owners put down almost $170,000 earlier this month as a deposit with the Kandal Provincial Court in return for confiscated equipment, even though they ignored an earlier arbitration ruling to pay the workers.

Women work at a garment factory in Phnom Penh in August last year. (Charles Fox)

Heng Bon, a lawyer for the workers, said the Arbitration Council had issued a non-binding ruling in August stating GHI Garments Cambodia, a Hong Kong-owned men’s clothing manufacturer, must pay outstanding salaries to its 196 employees after it had closed its Phnom Penh factory the previous month.

“The company was supposed to comply with labor law,” which stipulates that employers must pay workers within 48 hours of dismissal, she said. “Workers have been waiting for five or six months.”

Ms. Bon said the company paid $169,067 to the Kandal court on January 4, but it was unclear whether the workers would receive compensation from that money if the court ruled in their favor on Wednesday.

Court spokesman So Sarin confirmed that the court had received the sum.

“The court is conducting the procedure of the bail money for the company’s properties,” Mr. Sarin said, declining to comment further until the ruling.

Sok Phany, a legal officer working for U.S.-based labor rights group Solidarity Center, said she had been corresponding with GHI’s buyers in the U.S. for two months, and hoped their cooperation would result in a positive outcome.

“The last email we received from one of the buyers…said that from their last meeting with GHI representatives, they left the meeting understanding that the money for legal compensation was [paid] in accordance with the law,” she said.

Cooperation from the buyers, which she declined to identify, had been a refreshing change, Ms. Phany said.

“In terms of attitude from the buyers compared to other cases we deal with, it’s been quite positive—some buyers deny any responsibility or knowledge,” she said.

Solidarity Center director William Conklin said the amount of sway a buyer had in such a case depended on how important they were to the manufacturer.

“One of the brands has enough buying power” to influence GHI, he said. “They are a certain percentage of the manufacturing sales.”

Mr. Conklin said using brands to pressure factories into doing the right thing by their employees was not always successful.

“You hope the buyers—the brands—are cooperative; hope that the suppliers will work with the brands,” he said. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

GHI’s Hong Kong office declined to comment.

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