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First & Main gear goes cheap

121023_04

Workers mill about outside the First & Main plush toy factory after learning of its closure in September 2012. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Workers from bankrupt plush-toy factory First & Main are still owed money after the Ministry of Social Affairs auctioned $200,000 worth of factory equipment for just $21,000, a labour rights advocate said Sunday.

More than 350 workers were left stranded when the US-owned teddy bear factory closed in August and government officials took control of its assets in a bid to pay employees wages and severance benefits.

The Ministry of Social Affairs committee entrusted with this task, however, has shown little commitment to providing an adequate solution for the workers, Dave Welsh, country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said.

“The auction [of the company’s equipment] took place, and they sold $200,000 worth of equipment... in quick-fire fashion,” he said.

“It’s not so much the factory’s problem,” he added. “There’s been no real commitment by the government and the committee to follow the correct process. $21,000 seems quite dubious.”

Ministry of Social Affairs official Ke Sok Sidney said the $21,000 had paid workers’ wages for August, but he admitted it had covered only 5 per cent of the severance benefits they were owed.

“ACILS complained to us that the equipment in the factory should be worth $210,000, and they accused the factory of selling it too cheaply. We asked them to find someone to buy that equipment at a high price, but they could not,” he said.

Sok Sidney dismissed as unimportant questions over who had written “resignation” letters the workers were asked to thumbprint early this month.

Twenty-seven refused to do so out of fear it would surrender their entitlements. Sok Sidney refused to say who had written the resignation letter, but said his ministry had asked workers to thumbprint them.

“I told them that it was not important who had drafted it,” he said.

Workers’ representative Mech Mom said she was one of 27 who refused to thumbprint the “resignation” letter and had only been paid half of her salary and none of her severance entitlements.

“What we’re doing is trying to find a resolution to get our wages and benefits,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phonmpenhpost.com
Mom Kunthear at kunthear.mom@phnompenhpost.com

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