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Strikers used as ‘slave labour’

111013_06
Garment workers protest yesterday morning outside the Taiwanese-owned Meroson Cambodia Co Ltd factory in Thlok Village, Kouk Roka Commune, in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district.

About 500 of the 600 garment makers at Meroson Cambodia Co Ltd went on strike yesterday, accusing the Taiwanese-owned firm which exports T-shirts to North America of using them as “slave labour”.

“This Chinese factory has always violated Cambodian laws. It has also violated workers’ rights by forcing staff to work on public holidays and to work overtime,” said Chey Sovan, vice-president of the Cambodian

National Confederation for Labourers’ Protection.

Chey Sovan said that the main reason for the strike at the factory in Kouk Roka commune in the capital’s Dangkor district, was the firing of three workers on October 3 who had been selected by the union to be its representatives on September 18.

He said management did not want the union in the factory because it would expose violations of labour laws.

Sorn To, who said she was fired after joining the union, accused Meroson of forcing pregnant and sick staff to work overtime, and of cutting the salaries of those who took sick leave. “They treat workers like slaves,” she said.

Employee Phoeun Samnang said the company’s recruitment policy targeted uneducated women under the age of 30 and excluded women whose husbands were police officers or soldiers. “They only recruit pretty, young women with no education,” she said.

Union representative Un Dara confirmed workers’ allegations that they had to seek permission to go to the toilet, and that managers timed them when they did.

Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for Labour Solidarity, described this as “outrageous”.

“Even in Bangladesh, which has the worst working environment in the garment industry, they don’t do that. So it’s shocking to hear it’s happening here,” he said, adding that it was not the first time he had heard this allegation from garment workers in Cambodia. Staff at Meroson did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Touch Phorn, Dangkor district deputy police chief, said police were sent to the factory to protect property and prevent violence. “Police did not try to stop them from striking,” he said, adding that he had asked representatives of Meroson and workers to meet at his office to resolve the dispute.  

The International Labour Organisation monitors the factory as part of its Better Factories Cambodia program. It did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT MACISSAC

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