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Factory bows, but strike continues

Factory bows, but strike continues

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Garment workers protest outside the Meroson Cambodia Co Ltd factory, in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, on Wednesday.

Workers striking for a second day at a garment factory in suburban Phnom Penh succeeded yesterday in having one of their eight demands met, as Taiwanese-owned Meroson Cambodia Co Ltd agreed to reinstate three employees allegedly fired for joining a union, a union official said yesterday.

The agreement to reinstate the three workers followed an all-day meeting between company executives, workers’ representatives and officials from the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said Un Dara, vice-president of the Cambodian National Confederation for Labourers Protection.

However, the strike by about 500 of the 600 workers at the factory in Kouk Roka commune in Dangkor district will continue, he said, until the company agreed to the rest of the workers’ demands. These include paying overtime for work on Sundays, not forcing workers to work after 8:30pm, allowing sick leave, complying with legally required maternity benefits and ending timed toilet breaks.

Currently, before they can go to the toilet, all employees must write their name and company ID number on a form, along with the time they leave, Un Dara said. If they take longer than 10 minutes to return they receive a warning from managers that they will be fired if they do so twice more, he said.

Garment worker Yan Savet said the company deducted payment from bonuses if workers took longer than five minutes to go to the toilet. She also said that if workers were sick they were given a medical drip rather than allowed to go to a clinic. Working conditions like these were what prompted the strike, Yan Savet said. “We could not stand it any longer. The factory uses workers like animals.”

Yan Savet said the trigger for the strike was the firing of the three union representatives on October 3. Garment maker Phai Ra said workers wanted the union in the factory because they were under great pressure from management. The company routinely violated workers’ rights by forcing them to work overtime and firing staff without just cause, she added.

Police and the female strikers had scuffled briefly yesterday and the day before, but no one was injured and no arrests were made, Un Dara said.

“The workers’ spirits are high and they are fully committed to the strike. They are not afraid of police,” he said.

Dangkor district deputy police chief Touch Phorn denied that police had scuffled with the female protesters.

Last night, workers began blocking the road entering the factory, to prevent goods from being transported out of it. They vowed to stay there overnight.

Staff at Meroson did not respond to requests for comment. Khieu Savuth, deputy director of the Labour Ministry’s department of labor disputes, could not be reached for comment.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY VINCENT MACISAAC AND AND BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

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