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Worker march blocked

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Rong Chhun (right) scuffles with security guards and police yesterday outside the June Textile factory.

Police in Sen Sok district blocked a march planned for yesterday by workers from the June Textile garment factory, who have been demanding severance payments since the facility burned down in March.

Roughly 100 workers and activists gathered outside June Textile yesterday, planning to march to the capital’s Freedom Park and to government buildings.

They were surrounded by around 200 district and municipal police, however, who prevented them from marching and ripped away the megaphone of Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun, who spoke at the rally.

The roughly 1,000 workers from the factory have previously called for severance payments of US$150 for every year worked at the factory, though Rong Chhun put the demand yesterday at $100. Factory representatives have offered $20 per year worked.

Rong Chhun said he planned to appeal to garment buyers in the United States and Europe if the issue is not resolved shortly.

“I don’t want to do anything to affect the buyers, so I gave the boss one week to settle this matter,” he said.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Centre for International Labor Solidarity, said a hearing in the case had been scheduled for May 31 at the Arbitration Council, where workers will be joined by staff from ACILS and the Community Legal Education Centre. He called the management offer of $20 per year worked unacceptable.

“The $20, basically, they’re pulling out of the hat, so we’re hoping that’s just an opening offer, because it has no basis in law,” he said.

But Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said the fire qualified as an “act of God” under the Kingdom’s Labour Law, and therefore that the company did not owe any severance beyond what it has already agreed to pay out for annual leave and wages for the month of March. The $20 offer, he added, came as a result of “compassion” rather than a legal requirement.

“Everyone has suffered in this incident, so that’s just the way it is,” he said.

Police on the scene of yesterday’s protest declined to comment, as did Sen Sok deputy governor Cheng Monira.

Ky Say, a June Textile representative, said yesterday that the firm lived up to its legal obligations.

“The factory has suffered damage and can only offer a small amount of money to support the workers,” he said.

Former employees said, however, that they were prepared to continue the struggle.

“If there is no resolution, the workers will continue protesting,” said Mom Sophors, a 15-year veteran of June Textile.

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