Garment worker Ba Chhorvorn stands in the sweltering heat inside the small concrete brick room she calls home in Kandal province.
Across the road is her workplace, a supplier to Levi’s and Gap, which her boss describes as the “five-star hotel of garment factories”.
Worlds apart but just metres away, Chhorvorn’s accommodation is anything but glamorous.
“My two sisters and I live here,” the 25-year-old Tai Yang factory worker says as co-workers gather around her on the thin linoleum that covers a slab of uneven cement.
“We just sleep on the floor, because the landlord doesn’t provide beds and we can’t afford to buy any,” she says, surrounded by sewing machines the women use to supplement their meagre wages.
“We share a toilet with about 30 others and stay with neighbours when it rains because water leaks into the room.”
The sisters are among about 4,000 people, according to Cambodian Confederation of Unions figures, who have gone on strike at the Tai Yang and Camwell factories since June 25.
Workers claim Tai Yang Enterprises, in Ang Snuol district, secretly changed its name to Tai Nan in 2010 to avoid paying seniority bonuses.
For someone like Chhorvorn, this would amount to an extra $15 per month on top of the $100 she earns after overtime and bonuses.
Inside Tai Yang, manager Wu Minghuor explains that such a name change never happened and the workers have fallen victim to union propaganda.
“I want to clarify that our company did not change the name or sell the factory,” he says. “We have three factories owned by the same person: the first factory, which includes the Tai Yang I and II buildings; Camwell Manufacturing, which is next door; and the latest factory, Tai Nan, which was created in another part of Ang Snuol district in 2010.
“Workers who work [in Tai Nan] have not been moved from here.”
Minghuor, who manages all three factories, produces a document issued by the Ministry of Commerce and signed by secretary of state Kem Sythorn.
It states that Tai Nan was registered in November 2010.
Minghuor, however, would not confirm if all workers were being paid their seniority bonuses.
Since the workers began striking, they have clashed with police, seen their union president’s nephew’s face bloodied and been told they no longer have jobs. They have also ignored court and Arbitration Council orders to return to work.
Minghuor explains that almost all workers have now returned to the factories, and empty workspaces are due to be filled by nightshift workers.
A notice posted on a factory wall orders all workers on strike to return by 11am tomorrow.
“In case the workers still do not return . . . the company will follow the Labour Law and provide them their final salary and remaining bonuses,” it reads.
This follows the Ministry of Labour ordering the factories, which lose about $10,000 per strike day, to accept the workers back after management made similar threats on Sunday. It did not specify a timeframe for this.
CCU president Rong Chhun sits under an umbrella outside the factories flanked by about 80 women on strike. They are some of almost 3,500 who will not return to work until management guarantees their seniority bonuses, he says.
“We cannot limit the length of this strike, but we will go back to work [today] if the company accepts the workers’ demands,” Chhun says. He is also certain Tai Yang has changed its name.
The strikers originally also asked for accommodation, transportation, performance and maternity bonuses, but since the government’s announcement last week that garments workers will receive a $7 monthly accommodation or transport allowance and $3 extra for a full month’s attendance from September, they have withdrawn these demands.
According to Minghuor, the factories already provide $10 transportation and accommodation allowances each month as well as $11 attendance bonuses.
Regardless, Chhorvorn, her sisters and their friends remain committed to fighting for their seniority bonuses, because they fear their rent prices will increase now that the government has granted a pay increase.
“The factory took benefits from the workers, so we have to get them back,” she says.