An Armani supplier factory in Phnom Penh where workers frequently fainted amid soaring temperatures shuttered its doors this week, leaving hundreds unemployed and out of pocket after reportedly shifting orders from the designer brand to a second factory elsewhere in the country.
Having suspended work in July, the Taiwanese-owned Kin Tai Garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre commune officially closed its doors on Wednesday after issuing an announcement to its workforce that they no longer had jobs.
The factory, which the Post was granted rare access to before it suspended production, had for years ignored an arbitration council order to install water sprinklers on its roof to cool the facility, leaving workers to toil in temperatures sometimes exceeding 37 degrees Celsius.
Seamstresses at Kin Tai had resorted to coining – a traditional healing practice that involves scraping at their skin until it is raw – in an effort to endure the heat and keep from fainting.
Workers there, who were employed almost exclusively on three- to six-month fixed-duration contracts, said they weren’t receiving seniority bonuses, and many were unsure of their rights to paid leave.
The written announcement of the factory’s closure, which was signed on November 6 and obtained by the Post this week, says workers will receive all remittances owed to them under the Labour Law.
But many of Kin Tai’s former employees claim that they are owed more than the factory is prepared to pay.
Chheang Thida, president of Kin Tai’s in-factory union, said workers are still owed long-unpaid seniority bonuses, as well as unpaid wages from when work at the factory was suspended.
“My income is lost now,” said 35-year-old Treng Sopheap, who worked at Kin Tai for almost four years. “I can’t leave if the factory doesn’t pay me what they still owe me. I will protest to demand it.”
Thida, the union leader, said the factory “refused to pay us the money, saying it doesn’t have the ability to pay”.
But, she added, while hundreds were forced out of work, “the owner of the factory employed people at another branch”.
Joel Preston, a consultant at the Community Legal Education Centre, which works closely with unionists at Kin Tai, said the closure was not the result of Armani pulling orders but of “the factory being creative with the allocation of its orders”.
According to Preston, Kin Tai’s Taiwanese owners have moved all orders from the luxury brand over to a second factory in Kandal province called Golden Plus Textile.
Even as the factory dismissed its Phnom Penh workers, it was on a recruitment drive in Kandal, he said.
“During the suspension, we went to check out this other factory and saw they were recruiting workers . . . even though they have an existing workforce,” he said.
“Armani’s still sourcing from this other factory, the orders are still there; it’s just that the prime buyer, Kin Tai, is now the subcontractor.”
Preston said that an announcement was made to Kin Tai’s workers offering jobs at Golden Plus, but no one accepted because it was too far away.
At Golden Plus yesterday, workers – who all repeated claims that the factory shared ownership with Kin Tai – said the recruitment drive was ongoing.
“The factory recruits new workers almost every day because it has to get bigger,” said 43-year-old seamstress Kuy Aing Nay.
“It doesn’t have workers from Phnom Penh moving to work here; most workers are from Kandal province or neighbouring provinces,” she added.
Export records obtained from a source in the transportation industry show that Golden Plus shipped thousands of Armani products to Italy last year.
Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodian Alliance Trade Union (CATU), said Kin Tai and Golden Plus have the “same owners and the same buyers”.
On GMAC’s membership list, both factories are listed as having the same representatives, though different contact details are given.
When contacted this week, representatives would not confirm that the factories shared ownership, saying only that Kin Tai had closed.
Armani did not respond to requests for comment.
Workers interviewed yesterday – who were all employed on six-month fixed-duration contracts – said they were happy with conditions at Golden Plus.
But Preston of CLEC said reports had already been received from the recently opened factory of unpaid bonuses and issues with sick pay and annual leave.
“It’s a business to them to exploit people,” he said.
Preston added that by closing Kin Tai, the factory was “trying to avoid its financial responsibilities”, which he said included more than $50,000 in unpaid seniority bonuses and wages.
He said Armani also bore responsibility for ensuring that its workers were paid.
“We’ve been engaging with Armani for a long time now on this case, but it seems like one step forward, one step back when it should be a really simple process.”
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