Garment workers at the Benoh Apparel factory in the capital’s Meanchey district returned to work this week after a two-month suspension to find the building abandoned, prompting a protest demanding compensation from the government.
Some 200 workers gathered outside the factory as union leaders took turns shouting into a loudspeaker, watched by small number of armed police.
Benoh Apparel suspended activities under controversial circumstances in November, telling 600 of its 1,000-member staff to return in January and only paying workers $30 per month during that time, well under the then-minimum wage of $153.
Mon Makara, a 31-year-old garment worker who was at Benoh Apparel for 10 years, worried that the workers will never see compensation, despite meeting with a representative from the Ministry of Labour.
“The same Ministry of Labour representative came to meetings at the factory the last two months and claimed that he guaranteed the employer would not run away, and persuaded the workers to accept the offer of $30 a month,” she said.
Vong Sovann, deputy secretary-general of the committee in charge of resolving strikes and protests at the Ministry of Labour, said he simply followed “the process” when negotiating the suspension pay.
“It was an illegal shutdown,” he said, explaining that the workers can file a court complaint to freeze the company’s assets.
Rim Sao Leap, who worked at the factory for nine years, said the landlord informed the workers that rent had not been paid for three months.
“I want the Ministry of Labour to help the workers get paid according to the law. If we sell the assets, only old sewing machines, we may get $20 each. It is not fair,” she said.
Yun Soksaren, president of the Union for Khmer Workers, said he was contacted to help negotiate the situation with the government.
“Two hundred workers asked me to represent them. The factory is shut down, so either way we don’t have the union registered . . . So I don’t worry that I’ll break the trade union law, and I don’t worry that the government will take action against our union. Our only purpose is to help the workers,” he said.
Multiple workers claimed the factory was under the umbrella of Swedish retailer H&M, but it is not listed as a supplier on their website. A company representative did not respond to a request for comment.