A married couple working at the Phnom Penh Sugar Company in Kampong Speu owned by tycoon and senator Ly Yong Phat said that poor working conditions, including withheld wages and orders forbidding them to leave, prompted them to flee the complex on Sunday.
They left under the cover of night, scaling a locked gate with what they said were dozens of other fellow employees.
According to 48-year-old worker Chum Phum and his wife, Teng Siek, a supervisor arbitrarily withheld salaries to the point where they had no money to save or spend.
“We came to work in April, but I could not even have 1,000 riel [US25 cents] in my pocket, because from week to week, he always reduced our salary and [the salaries of] other workers. And when we are sick, there isn’t medicine,” he said.
Chum Phum claimed that in addition to salary cuts, gates were locked at night and he was warned against leaving. He said that most of the workers who fled on Sunday were from Prey Veng province.
The Post was not able to reach them.
A representative of the company, Chheang Kim Sun, flatly denied the allegations yesterday.
“The company never prevented workers from going in and out; they always go out every evening after they complete their jobs,” she said.
Management offered food to thousands of workers throughout the day, and all of them received an equitable salary, from $100 to $400 per month, depending on skill sets, she said.
The company has an economic land concession of 9,000 hectares from the government to grow sugar cane in Thpong district’s Omlaing commune.
A worker at the company, who wished to remain anonymous, said he had heard that rules inside the factory were strict, but he was unable to confirm that workers were kept overnight against their will.
“The factory will lock at 11pm by not allowing anyone to get out or get in,” he said.
He also heard about complaints stemming from slow payments, but they only came from those working what he described as a “probationary” period.
Through an intermediary, the couple told their story to human rights group Licadho, which is now investigating.
“If our investigation showed that the company really did that, we would take legal action, because it is an abuse of the workers’ labour force,” Chheng Sophors, a senior investigator with Licadho, said.
Phal Vannak, a representative of residents from Orm Laing commune, where the company is located, said he sheltered the couple for one night.
“I would like to meet with the company to ask and require the company to return the total amount [of salary] to the workers,” he said.
He added that workers from far-off provinces are especially vulnerable to exploitation in the work force.
Chum Phum and his wife had little money on them, some of it obtained in a last-minute transaction at the company when they sold their mobile phones to pay for food.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]