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Two men survey the ruins of a garment factory after a fire
Two men survey the ruins of a garment factory after a fire levelled the premises in Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district on Monday. Eli Meixler

Workers seek pay after fire

A day after the Chang Feng garment factory burned down in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district, most of the roughly 900 employers – now effectively out of work – gathered yesterday to demand pay.

But a meeting between worker representatives and factory officials – themselves still reeling from the death of a 42-year-old clothing inspector in the blaze – resulted only in workers being offered cash loans of up to $100 to help them in the short term.

“All the workers took the deal, since some of them rent houses,” said worker Khet Dy, who added that workers were demanding their monthly pay packets. “I still want my salary and the incentives.”

Hong Chanthorn, a union representative, said the loan money had come not from the factory’s owner – who is still receiving medical treatment – but a former manager who had attended the meeting.

“The former boss’s name is John. He is a Chinese man who lent his money to the workers,” Chanthorn said.

Officials said they believe an electrical malfunction was to blame for the blaze, which burned the factory down early on Monday. As well as claiming one life, it injured three others.

Chang Sheng’s administration manager, Ly Chantry, said management did not yet know the cost of the damage or what else they would do to assist the workers.

Dave Welsh, country director for labour-rights group Solidarity Center, said the workers were “certainly owed wages”, but the amount would depend on whether the factory reopens. There is a formula under the Cambodian labour law, Welsh said. In some cases in the past, he added, factories had been forced to pay when fires were found to be caused by electrical faults.

However, Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said he did not think there was any legal obligation for factories to pay workers.

“I do know the government is setting up a committee to look into the demands and requests of these affected workers,” he said. “So let’s leave this committee to do its work.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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