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Strike wounds slow to heal

Strike wounds slow to heal

Garment workers in Kandal province participate in a nationwide strike over working conditions, benefits and low salaries in September, 2010. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post

More than 70 garment workers who claim they were sacked after a nationwide workers’ strike in September, 2010 are still waiting to be reinstated, Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), has told the Post.

Thorn claimed on Tuesday about 10 factories were ignoring orders from three provincial courts to reinstate 71 workers, including union leaders, who lost their jobs after a four-day strike led by C.CAWDU and the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia over wage and bonus increases.

“The workers are not allowed to return to work, even though the court and the government ordered the factories to accept them,” he said, claiming to have court documents to prove it and referring to comments Prime Minister Hun Sen made in the strike’s aftermath.

Garment worker and former union leader Chan Bophal said she was sacked from a factory in the capital after joining the strike.

The 33-year-old has since struggled for money and was fired from her next job when her bosses discovered her immediate past, she said.

“Even my husband blamed me almost every day [for losing my job], because he was the only one earning money to support the family after I was fired,” she said.

Bophal’s former co-worker Saem Ponleu, 30, said she was unemployed for four months after her dismissal.

“I had to borrow money from neighbours that I have not yet paid back,” she said.

The government and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, however, strongly rejected the union’s figures and the workers’ claims to reinstatement yesterday, saying the issue had been resolved.

Ke Sok Sidney, a strike settlement committee member at the Ministry of Social Affairs, said all the dismissed workers had been accepted back.

“The rest who claim they were dismissed are not the real workers who joined the strike,” he said. “[It] had already finished, and other workers . . . came from somewhere else, saying they were workers who were fired.”

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo said the government had carried out extensive investigations into which workers had actually been dismissed.

“Every single worker has been reinstated,” he said.

Loo said that in some cases, workers claiming to have been sacked had actually reached the end of their contracts, which had not been renewed.

“Most of their claims of dismissal were not dismissal – their contracts had expired in November and December [2010],” he said.

“There was a report made whereby all factories were asked to submit documentation [about the workers].

“From that list, we discovered some of the names were not relevant to the events. We had one name where the contract had expired in 2008.”

Thorn said the government had not told him that the case was closed.

“I have not received the information about that. All we have are the court orders to the companies to accept the workers back,” he said.

C.CAWDU had helped 30 workers from the 2010 strike regain their jobs this year and would continue to negotiate with companies to reinstate the remaining 71, Thorn said.

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