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Locked-out toy makers left in lurch over wages

Locked-out toy makers left in lurch over wages

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Employees of the First & Main plush toy manufacturer exit the company’s factory after learning of its closure earlier this month. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Employees at the First & Main cuddly-toy company arrived at work yesterday expecting to be paid outstanding wages – instead, a notice on the gates told them all equipment inside the Phnom Penh factory would be auctioned off, because the company was closing for good.

The Ministry of Social Affairs’ strike and demonstration resolution committee, which issued the notice, said Brad Holes, American co-owner of the firm, had decided to close his Sen Sok district factory, with orders to his Cambodian accountant to sell the equipment.

“The committee will pay the workers what they are owed once this property has been sold,” the notice states.

The teddy bear company closed its doors on August 26, amid rumours it was on the verge of financial collapse.

Its 357 workers were told to return on September 10 for a meeting with management about their future and to be paid wages for August.

Workers have claimed they found no sign of their bosses on that date and milled about peacefully, while Holes has said a management representative was barricaded inside the building, fearing for her life, as a mob trashed the factory and destroyed CCTV footage.

One thing not in dispute is that Holes promised on September 13 he would pay workers their outstanding wages in two instalments, the second of which was due this week.

Yesterday, workers’ representative Mech Mom said the Ministry of Social Affairs told her Holes had agreed to pay workers once the equipment is sold.

“We’ve agreed to that, so we have to wait another week,” she said. “[But] we need our wages right now.”

Ke Sok Sidney, from the resolution committee, said he would investigate how much equipment was lost during the alleged trashing.

“We will ask the security guard to pay for the loss of equipment,” he said.

Dave Welsh, American Center for International Labor Solidarity country manager, said that under Cambodian bankruptcy law, workers owed money had the first claim to company equipment that went under the hammer.

“It’s tough luck for the creditors, but that’s the way it is,” he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mom Kunthear at [email protected]
Shane Worrell at [email protected]

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