Officials from the Ministry of Labour met yesterday with workers from three related garment factories in Por Sen Chey district who were left empty-handed when the owner absconded without warning last week while employees were at one of Prime Minister Hun’s Sen’s speeches.

In the speech, the premier had told the workers that the country did not need specialised labour courts to settle disputes, despite the labour law mandating their creation.

Ministry spokesman Heng Sour was tight-lipped yesterday on the meeting, but workers said they were given two options: sell the remaining assets of the factory or file a complaint with the courts. However, Sout Chet, an official from the Cambodian Union of Movement of Workers, which represents the workers, said workers would rather the ministry find the missing owner first.

Ministry officials “only tried to persuade workers to accept the solution of selling the assets and property”, Chet said. “However, selling the assets would not raise much money, so workers don’t want that solution.”

The Labour Ministry’s Sour refused to say whether the government was in contact with the owner of the three Taiwanese-owned factories, named Yu Da Garment Industry, Yu Fa Garment Industry and SRE Garment Co Ltd.

“I don’t think in any country they would tell about the negotiation,” Sour said. “You wondering could be damaging to the workers.

“Let the process be complete,” he added. “We know how to bring both sides together.”

Garment workers from a shuttered factory protest in Phnom Penh this morning.Pha Lina

The Ministry of Commerce website identifies a Taiwanese resident named Mei-Fen Lee as the owner of Yu Fa Garment Industry as of January. A woman who answered the phone at the company hung up on a reporter yesterday.

Absconding garment factory owners have become such a problem that Labour Minister Ith Samheng floated the idea last year of requiring factories to pay out severance at the end of each contract. Labour rights advocates have called for similar reforms.

Esther Germans of Better Factories Cambodia said yesterday that industry players and government officials should consider requiring factories to put down deposits as collateral.

“Deposits of factories can be used to pay workers their missed wages, severance pay and indemnity payments when owners run away,” Germans said in an email.

However, Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia head Ken Loo said workers were already highly protected, adding that employees of any company take on the risk that their employer may go out of business, including The Phnom Penh Post.

“Are you specially protected? I don’t think so,” Loo said. “It’s like any company that goes into liquidation. It’s nothing special.”

Loo acknowledged, however, that selling off garment factory assets in the past had typically not generated enough to recoup workers’ losses.

Garment worker Deuk Doeun, who is eight months pregnant and worked at Yu Da for nine years, expressed frustration and fear about her dwindling savings. “It looks bad that foreign employers can do something like this so easily in our own country, just disappear without any responsibility,” she said. “We workers look like rubbish; we work so hard, and in the end we didn’t even get our salary.”

Updated: 8:32am, Tuesday 13 February 2018