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Half-year protest shutters factory

Employees from Harta Packaging Industries hold placards during a protest at the Ministry of Labour
Employees from Harta Packaging Industries hold placards during a protest at the Ministry of Labour last week. Heng Chivoan

Half-year protest shutters factory

A six-month protest over unpaid bonuses has seen production at a Por Sen Chey district box factory grind to a halt over the past four days, with more than 200 former employees blocking gates and preventing shipments.

Former employees at Harta Packaging Industries began barricading gates at the factory one week ago today, spurring Harta’s shutdown on Saturday, said Sorn Bora, Harta production manager and president of the Workers Friendship Union there.

The ongoing protest stems from a long-standing conflict between management and former senior employees over payouts they say should have been made when the factory changed ownership in 2012.

“We just need our seniority bonuses,” Bora said. “When we get our bonuses, we’ll stop protesting.”

When Harta’s former Malaysian owners sold to the current Japanese team, new management dismissed about 200 people, making good on seniority payments and other benefits. But an additional 285 workers eligible for seniority bonuses at dismissal insisted the new owners pay those benefits up front.

Factory management has fired most of those workers since February for protesting about the payments. Some 80 have sought new employment, while more than 200 have kept vigil in front of the factory.

If a company changes ownership, it is required to pay seniority bonuses at the time of purchase if the name is changed, Cambodian legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said. But if the name stays the same, new owners are only required to respect prior agreements made to senior employees.

Although the sign at the Harta building now reads “OGI Paper Asia”, the factory is still listed with the Ministry of Commerce as Harta Packaging Industries (Cambodia) Limited, administrative manager So Pheakdey said.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Ken Ratha yesterday could not confirm Harta’s official listing, but Arbitration Council Foundation spokesman Ly Sokheng’s official listing for the factory agreed with Pheakdey’s.

Despite this, the Arbitration Council ruled in favour of the 206 holdouts in a May 31 decision, ordering the factory to pay the bonuses.

Harta rejected the decision, which could bring the case in front of a Phnom Penh Municipal Judge.

“The Arbitration Council did not correctly rule on this case, which is why we can’t accept its decision,” Pheakdey said. “The workers are demanding the company pay out the bonuses because the name was changed, but we did not actually change the name.”

Harta officials have not yet complained to police about the former employees blocking gates and are paying their roughly 500 current employees during the production halt, Pheakdey said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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