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MFone workers told to wait

mfone
Employees left jobless by Mfone’s bankruptcy protest in front of the company’s boarded-up Phnom Penh office on Sunday. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Former employees of the failed telecomm-unications company MFone have been told they can expect a decision next month on their claims  for more than $4 million in compensation.

Former Mfone section manager Bou Kunthea said after a meeting yesterday with offic-ials from the Ministry of Soc-ial Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, led by Secret-ary of State Vong Sovann, that attendees had agreed to reconvene next month.

“All participants have agreed to hold another meeting on April 8 with all those Mfone owes money to,” she said.

“We don’t know how much we will get from the sale of Mfone’s assets. We will have to wait to see the result of the meeting next month.”

The workers estimate that Mfone owes 1,092 employees more than $4.4 million.

Kunthea said employees were owed between $1,000 and $50,000 each, based on  length of employment. She said some had been with the company more than 20 years.

“We demand this money in accordance with the Labour Law,”  she said.

“Some staff are poor, and some are students who need money for their studies.”

Yesterday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court appointed lawyer Ouk Ry to temporarily oversee the administration of MFone’s assets.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, whose organisation has been working in consultation with the Ministry of Labour on the Mfone dispute, said that just as with labour disputes in the garment sector, workers’ compensation should be the priority.

Welsh said he had advised the ministry that under bankruptcy proceedings, workers’ debts came first and should be paid in full.

“Once they are paid in full, look after any other obligat-ions. But workers get priority,” Welsh said.

Dr Naryth Hem, a managing partner with the Cambodian law firm BNG Legal, confirmed that along with administrat-ive and court fees, employee wages had the highest priority among claims under Cambodian insolvency law.

“I think the seniority fee [severance pay] connected to the wages should have the same priority,” Hem said.

Thaicom, Mfone’s parent company, released a statement last month saying M-fone’s insolvency applicat-ion  had been accepted and the court had appointed an administrator to handle the bankruptcy proceedings.

Mfone is estimated to have been more than $70 million in debt to its creditors, which include  the Chinese telecoms equipment provider Huawei Technologies.

At the time of print, neither Mfone’s holding company, Shenington Investments, nor Thaicom could be reached for further comment.

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