Garment workers from the Yung Wah I and Yung Wah II Industrial (Cambodia) factories block a road during a protest in Kandal province, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
With the anniversary of the shooting of three garment workers at Kaoway Sports factory in Bavet town just a week away, about 5,000 workers went on strike yesterday at the Manhattan Special Economic Zone (MSEZ), where then-city governor Chhouk Bandith allegedly opened fire last year.
In a simultaneous protest yesterday, the entire workforce of Kandal province’s Yung Wah Industrial garment factory complex – about 7,000 workers – blocked the road outside the shuttered Gap supplier all day to demand their salaries, which are two months overdue.
Workers from four factories – Long Bright, Chart, and bicycle factories Smart Tech and Best Way – protested in Svay Rieng province’s MSEZ against low wages and other conditions.
“The factories don’t respect working conditions,” said Ros Savy, an employee of Long Bright. “They always fire workers.”
A worker involved in a strike last month had been forced to work overtime and in isolation, he added. Long Bright could not be reached for comment.
On February 20 last year, three women were injured after Bandith allegedly opened fire during a protest involving about 6,000 workers. The since-deposed governor will appear in the Court of Appeal on February 27 for questioning over the incident, a re-opening of a case that was originally dropped by the provincial court.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, said yesterday that unions and labour-rights groups found it difficult to enter the MSEZ for discussions with workers and factory owners.
“We’ve had no progress at all since the garment workers were shot. We’re concerned for workers’ freedoms, because unions just can’t enter.”
Dave Welsh, American Center for International Labor Solidarity country manager, said the government needed to provide a framework in which to discuss a national minimum wage and regular pay rises.
“We call on the government to have something systematic in place to deal with wage increases,” he said.
In Kandal’s Takhmao town, the 7,000 workers from the twin Yung Wah I and Yung Wah II factories blocked road 21B starting at 6:30am.
They told a similar story to the one that unfolded at Kingsland Garment in the capital in late December: their factory had closed, and their bosses had fled while still owing wages.
“The employer and managers of the company flew overseas in December and collected the old merchandise to sell, but the workers were not told anything,” worker representative Sok Phalla said. “We need our salary for two months, and if the factory is closed, the employers have to pay all the benefits for us.”
“I have no money to buy food,” said Soy Sokchea, who worked at Yung Wah II for more than eight years.
Employees had not been given work since the end of January, he added.
Yung Wah Industrial administrative manager Seoun Hout said yesterday that he, too, had not received his salary.
“The employer is in Singapore, and he referred everything to the company lawyer,” he said, adding employees were waiting to hear from that lawyer.
With assistance from Shane Worrell