Hundreds of garment workers on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard yesterday continued to protest the dismissal of a union leader at a factory that supplies US retail giant K-Mart, claiming he was fired for pushing the owners to respect a recent labour arbitration decision.
Workers Friendship Union Federation leader Bou Thet, who works in the machine repair section at the International Fashion Royal Co factory, said he was fired on Tuesday, with a representative of the 80 percent US-owned factory citing his “bad attitude”.
Thet said all 1,100 workers from the factory had protested on Wednesday but some returned to work yesterday. He said the factory representative also claimed that he had “cheated the company” out of money, but he believed the real reason was his unionism.
“The factory offered me $600 compensation but I don’t want it,” Thet said, adding he was proud of his activism and wanted to return to his work and labor organising. “The workers also want me to go back to work, as I negotiated many benefits for workers last year.”
On May 27, he said, the Arbitration Council ruled in favour of the workers’ requests for their overtime meal allowances to be paid weekly instead of monthly, for maternity leave to be paid to pregnant workers before they take leave and for a daycare centre at the factory.
“The factory rejected the decision, and they do not intend to implement it,” Thet said.
Arbitration Council official Am Nan said that the factory was not legally required to accept the decision.
“If the decision is binding and one party does not implement it, the other party can ask the court to enforce the decision,” Nan said, noting the May 27 decision, like most made by the council, was not binding.
According to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), International Fashion Royal Co is 80 percent US-owned and 20 percent South Korean-owned. It supplies K-Mart and produce Tresics, Color Thread and Kids & Co clothes, according to Thet.
A factory representative listed by GMAC who did not give her name said only that the manager was “in the process of solving” the dispute. She referred questions to him, but would not provide contact details.
The factory is also part of the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia programme but its communications officer, Ly Sokheng, said in an email that its assessment of the factory could not yet be made public. “All our factory members that have had at least 2 assessments . . . are subject to public reporting,” he said.
Sieng Chrourn, a spokesperson for a representative of Thet’s union, said that the union and the factory’s workers planned to force the factory to re-instate their leader to his job. “We will continue the strike until the problem is solved,” she said.