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'Sexually harassed' workers stick to their guns

'Sexually harassed' workers stick to their guns

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Police confront striking workers employed by Ocean Garment Co Ltd during a protest in Phnom Penh on Monday. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Ocean Garment yesterday refused to meet the sole demand of thousands of striking workers to have their manager, accused of sexual harassment, sacked.

An inter-governmental ministerial committee met with union and employer representatives, but Bangladeshi-owned Ocean Garment – which supplies retail titan Gap – refused to terminate the manager accused by workers of misconduct.

More than 2,500 of the Phnom Penh factory’s 4,000-strong work force have been on strike since August 11, and the allegedly abused women yesterday announced they would be pressing criminal charges.

Worker representative Keo Kim Heang said workers were left feeling thwarted, having expected a positive outcome.

“He asked the workers to go out with and then have sex with him, especially the beautiful workers. He was so angry when the workers rejected his advances and they are very worried for their security,” she said.

Four women claimed to have endured repeated sexual harassment from the manager for almost a month now.

Executive director for Gender and Development for Cambodia, Ros Sopheap, said the fact the women had reported the alleged abuse was a breakthrough.

“I think in almost more than 10 years, I have not seen a claim of sexual harassment [in the garment industry], yet we know it is common in this industry,” she said, lauding the courage and solidarity of the women.

But Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia, said sexual harassment was not endemic in the industry, and that it was rather a case of “friendly behaviour being misconstrued as sexual advances”.

Choun Vicheka, Ocean Garment’s administrative manager, could not be reached.

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