More than 500 workers at a garment factory in suburban Phnom Penh went on strike yesterday over what they described as their employer’s history of disregarding labour laws, including firing pregnant employees.
Taiwanese-owned Nan Kuang Garment (Cambodia) allegedly forces staff to work overtime, employs under-age girls and refuses to allow staff to take sick leave, workers striking outside its factory in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune said. They said the sacking of two pregnant staff within the last week triggered the strike.
“We decided to protest to force the factory owner to allow them to return to work,” said employee Ol Sreyneang. “We won’t stop if the owner does not allow them back,” she said.
Employee Srey Ren said she was striking because the company was breaking labour laws. “According to the law, pregnant staff should receive maternity leave, not lose their jobs. If a pregnant worker is fired how she can she earn money for her baby?” Srey Ren said. Ol Sreyneang said the company had never respected labour laws. Besides firing pregnant employees, she accused it of forcing ill staff to work, forcing others to work overtime and hiring under-age girls as long as they agreed to work overtime and forgo a US$5 a month payment for transport to and from the factory.
The president of the Cambodian Workers Economic Federation said the strike was legal. “The factory fired two pregnant women and forces staff to work overtime,” Sath Chheanghou added. The vice-president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union said what was most worrisome was discrimination against pregnant workers and forced overtime. Both were violations of international agreements and Cambodian law, Kong Athit added.
Factory management provided contradictory information. One manager, who identified herself as Karen, said there had been a protest, but added that it would not cause production delays. She said the factory employed about 1,000 Cambodian staff and 40 Chinese nationals. A second manager, who declined to identify herself, claimed there was no strike.