Prime Minister Hun Sen has called on factory owners to stop dismissing workers as a way to end disputes. Instead, he urged dialogue and instructed the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to ensure all legal mechanisms are followed to avoid protests.
A union leader hailed the prime minister’s comments, saying protection from the prime minister regarding unfair dismissal is a positive development for Cambodian workers.
“I call on all factory owners to not use dismissal in disputes. Dialogue between factory owners, unions and worker representatives is really the best way,” he told around 10,000 garment workers from 34 factories in Kandal province on Wednesday.
The prime minister raised the example of Bangladesh, where more than 5,000 protesting workers were fired in January. He said it was the wrong approach, with factories in Cambodia also seeing such mass sackings until he had intervened to help fired workers get re-employed.
“Factory owners need to pay attention to the welfare of workers. Workers have good health but we must also pay attention to improving their education . . . Factory owners also need to remember that without workers they would not be factory owners, but merely the owners of warehouses.
“And workers – if there is no factory, you are not workers either,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen said he had instructed the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to work on the issue. Workers with grievances should not be treated as criminals and dismissed, he said.
If a worker was sacked for a criminal matter, he said, the courts should deal with it, but in labour disputes, staff should not be fired, but dialogue opened and educational measures taken.
His appeal came as workers at factories across the country have been fired for differing reasons. These include 1,000 workers at the W&D Factory in Phnom Penh who were sacked after demanding their company calculate their seniority pay. The dispute is ongoing, with the protest lasting three months already.
Srey Neang, who is among the 1,000 sacked by the W&D Factory and is involved in the protest, said following the prime minister’s comments that she hoped a solution could be found and she would soon be re-employed.
She said she has faced financial difficulties since being sacked,with her husband’s income used to cover rent and their children’s schooling.
“After [Prime Minister Hun Sen] said this, I hope to see results because I have seen nothing positive so far. No one has come to help us solve this problem. I want a job and I want [Hun Sen] to help quickly. I have not had a job for two months now and I have no money,” she said.
Ken Loo, the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), declined to comment on Wednesday, saying he was in a meeting.
National Union Alliance Chamber of Cambodia (NACC) president Som Aun welcomed Hun Sen’s call, saying that in the past, many workers had been dismissed for a range of reasons, including those that appeared discriminatory.
He said protection from the prime minister regarding unfair dismissal is a positive development for the Kingdom’s workers.
“Some employers have discriminated against unions, dismissing their representatives, and fired workers illegally. Therefore, the comments from the prime minister, I think, sends a message that will urge employers to better follow the law,” he said.
Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training spokesman Heng Sour and Kaing Monika, deputy general-secretary of GMAC, could not be reached for comment.
W&D Factory’s owner fired some 1,200 employees in early January after protests calling for improved conditions. The factory issued an ultimatum – supported by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court – that striking workers return to their jobs within 48 hours or be dismissed.
The workers responded to the ultimatum by occupying the factory, with representatives saying they would not back down until their demands are met.
According to the Labour Ministry, factory owners must pay their workers a seniority payment twice a year in June and December, as well as severance pay upon conclusion of an employment contract.’
The prime minister Hun Sen on January 9 warned unions to stop organising demonstrations and strikes to demand benefits from factory owners. He said such action could spin out of hand and force around two-thirds of the Kingdom’s factories, approximately 800 of the country’s 1,159 factories, to close down due to insufficient funds.
“If factories close down, the one who suffers the consequences is not the factory owner. The ones who first see consequences are the workers who used to have jobs and earn an income,” he said at the time.