While 1,200 sacked W&D garment factory workers protested in front of the factory on Tuesday, a lawyer representing it said they will not be re-hired.
The factory fired the workers on Friday, having previously issued an ultimatum – supported by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court – that striking workers return to their jobs within 48 hours or be terminated.
Factory representative and defence lawyer Taing Meng told The Post on Tuesday that the termination is legal because the workers had not followed the court’s order.
In addition, he said the factory does not plan to provide seniority indemnity and is only responsible for the workers’ final month’s salary.
“The workers’ disagreement is their issue. What the factory did is legal. If the workers do not accept the last month’s salary, it is beyond the factory’s responsibility."
“The workers’ seniority indemnity was already paid on December 31. They have received half their December salary already, and the other half was [expected to be paid] on Saturday. Because the workers were terminated, the factory will pay them later,” he said.
The final notice informing the workers of their salary payment which was due on Tuesday, he said, had been delayed because the factory had not yet prepared the budget.
Protests initially started on December 24 over pay and conditions, while on Saturday the workers went on strike again. They had blocked Street 217 in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey III commune in Phnom Penh, where the factory is located, as they continued their demands for seniority indemnity and severance benefits.
On Tuesday, the workers assembled in front of the factory to demonstrate and warned that they will continue protesting if a reasonable solution is not offered.
Srey Neang, 30, who has worked in the factory for over five years, told The Post: “Without a solution, what will we do? The factory terminated us. The factory should pay us [everything they owe us].
“The factory has not paid us. Now they have terminated us through an ultimatum. The factory must fulfil five further criteria before they can terminate workers. We will not reconcile with them if the factory doesn’t pay us,” she said.
Under the new law which came into effect on January 1, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training requires that all employees who have undetermined duration contracts receive a seniority payment of 15 days’ wages paid in two instalments in June and December.
The ministry has said it intends to talk with the private sector regarding seniority indemnity owed for work prior to 2019.
The protesting workers are concerned that the implementation of the new law will see them lose entitlement to seniority indemnity accrued over the last decade.
They say the factory has promised to pay seniority indemnity several times, but it never follows through.
Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
However, he told The Post on Monday that the government would work with the company to ensure that the workers would not lose their seniority indemnity.
“The government ensures that garment workers will not lose their benefits if the company folds. They should not worry about their severance pay,” Sour said.
Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) president Pav Sina is disappointed that the company has decided to not re-employ the workers or pay proper compensation.
Sina said violation of workers’ rights is a serious issue, while private companies’ use of the court system to pressure workers is just as serious, and other factories may follow suit if the practice is not stopped.
“I think this issue is becoming more widespread, and workers’ demands have not been properly addressed."
“Therefore, the ministry should work with the factory to re-hire the terminated workers. The ministry should find a solution that is acceptable to everyone,” he said.
W&D employs a total of 1,600 workers. There were several protests in 2004-2006, some of which saw intervention from Prime Minister Hun Sen to resolve workers’ concerns.
At Tuesday’s protest, workers said they hoped the prime minister would intervene again to help them find a solution.