More than half of the 800 Cambodian workers who accused police of threatening them with guns and firing into the air during a protest at Phatthana Seafood Co in Thailand on Monday were preparing to return home yesterday, a strike representative said.
Sok Sorng said employees were told factory management would return their passports and release them from their contracts if they wanted to leave, following negotiations with CDM Trading Manpower, the Cambodian company who sent the workers to the factory. About 500 have taken them up on their offer, he said.
Three days of strikes, however, failed to achieve the employees’ initial demands – the payment of a 20-baht daily food allowance and a 20-baht daily hard-work bonus – but many workers were relieved to be returning to Cambodia, Sok Sorng said.
“More than 800 workers protested again, but police did not threaten us,” he said. “[The factory and CDM] agreed that [workers] can come back home if they want. The company will give them the passports.”
About 1,000 people, including workers from Myanmar and Thailand, began protesting outside the global seafood exporter, which supplies retail giant Walmart, in Songkhla province on Sunday.
“The factory gave us the right to come back,” he said. “We are happy that we have been given a solution after protesting for a few days,” he said. “But for those who want to continue, the factory could not pay what the protesters demand.”
Workers had also complained about their accommodation and the fact they had been made to pay for it after CDM had “promised it free”.
Heng Sophea, communication officer at CDM Trading Manpower, said the company had found a solution for the workers after it sent officials to talk to workers and negotiate with the factory. “After they listened to us, they stopped protesting,” she said.
Heng Sophea could not confirm a reported offer to give the workers who stayed an eight-day holiday over the Thai new year at their daily rate of 246 baht per day.
Megan Murphy, Walmart’s international corporate affairs manager, said the retail giant was investigating the situation.
“As soon as we received reports of possible labour rights violations at Phatthana Seafood Co, we launched an investigation,” she said. “We take reports like this very seriously and we will take appropriate actions based on the findings from our investigation.”
Thai Vice-Minister of Labour Anusorn Kraiowatnussorn was not available for comment last night, while Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong and Phatthana Seafood could not be reached.