Workers striking at Ocean Garment factory say they still fear for their safety after being ordered back to work on Friday, where a manager accused of sexual harassment continues to work.
More than 2,500 workers at the Phnom Penh factory – which supplies retail giant Gap – rallied behind six female employees, who accused their Bangladeshi manager, Faruk Ahmad, of sexual abuse, in an August 11 protest that has stretched on for nearly two weeks.
The women lodged formal criminal complaints to the police and municipal court last week; however, investigations are still pending, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, Pav Sina said.
He said the workers had continued their strike inside the factory’s walls yesterday, and would gather again today in support of five worker representatives, suspended by Ocean despite all workers being ordered back to the factory in a Phnom Penh Municipal Court injunction on Thursday.
According to Sina, Ocean Garment suspended the five worker representatives when the employees returned to work on Friday.
“The court released the protection warrant and asked all workers to return to work in 48 hours on Friday, and we agreed with the court order. But the company then announced to suspend us five workers representatives – that’s why all workers decided to strike again,” worker representative Keo Kim Heang added.
Sina said the company yesterday agreed to accept the five back to work, but the workers remained distrustful of management and wanted the move verified in a letter.
He told the Post Ahmad was still working at the factory, but that he had not made contact with the workers.
Ocean Garment and Ahmad did not immediately respond to the Post’s requests for comment.
One of the six to allege the sexual harassment, 27-year-old Heng Samphors, said she was terrified for her safety with the knowledge Ahmad was still employed at the factory. She alleged he called her frequently and propositioned her for sex, offering $50 for the act, and when she refused, he threatened her with termination.
“I told the president of the union and the police chief officials about my concerns and they said that if I was still scared and keep it a secret that he will do the same to other workers, so I decided to sue him,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said the court’s move to reinstate the worker representatives suggested it could be on the strikers’ side.
He said he also believed Ahmad was still working at the Dangkor district site and the story was spreading around the world.
“International press … have a hold of it – this is what major brands try to resist, this would be a major concern for Gap now,” he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Mom Kunthear and Claire Knox at [email protected]