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Factory workers fired for protesting

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Gawon Apparel factory workers protest in front of their factory in May to demand unpaid wages from the company in Kandal province. Pha Lina

Factory workers fired for protesting

Nearly 600 workers were fired from Gawon factory in Takhmao town last week for allegedly violating a court order by protesting, according to workers and the factory owner.

Over the last year, workers at the factory have repeatedly gone on strike in protest of late wages.

Unionist Ran Bora, 36, who had been working for the South Korean-owned factory for nearly 10 years, said a notice dismissing 588 workers last Tuesday cited a court order, which on December 27 had ordered workers to return to work within 48 hours. According to factory owner Mercedes Cha, those fired didn’t appear for work within that deadline.

Bora said two trucks had arrived at the factory on December 30 to transport machinery from the factory, raising concerns that the operation may be shut down without delayed wages being paid. Workers managed to block one of the trucks from hauling away the equipment. “All of us are worried that after the owner sold the machinery, they’ll not pay us anything,” he said.

According to Cha, the factory was simply selling off non-functioning machines to be replaced with 200 new ones – a fact she contended the unions knew of.

Saing Yot, dispute resolution officer for the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the factory had once employed 1,300 workers. “As I can see, the intention of the employer is to cut off more and more workers before they shut the factory down,” he said, an assertion Cha flatly denied, saying she hoped to keep its doors open.

“I want to continue this factory,” she said. “I’m 100 percent in love with Cambodia, but it’s very difficult to work [here].”

She claimed that the company had offered regular training for workers, overtime, maternity and paternity leave, and trips to Angkor Wat, for example, until unions had brought financial difficulties by lobbying companies to cut off orders. Unionist Kri Chantha refuted this allegation.

“We don’t do that,” he said. “How can we mobilise buyers not to order products from the factory?” he asked.

According to Cha, a buyer yesterday was barred from leaving the premises for hours yesterday by workers, and calls to police went unheeded.

“The government officers, they’re very scared for the [upcoming] elections, so they cannot come to help,” she said.

The buyer, who requested anonymity as he was not permitted to speak to the press, said he was locked in the factory for two hours before climbing over a wall to a neighbouring house in the backyard. “They did not let anyone out. I told them I was not from the factory . . . but they said no one can go,” he said.

He explained that this experience would not influence his company’s purchase, and that he neither supported the factory owner nor the workers. “I actually have no idea what’s happening,” he said. “I have nothing to do with any of this.”

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