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Unequal treatment at Cambodian factories

Unequal treatment at Cambodian factories

130225 06
Workers from the Kingsland Garment factory in Meanchey district protest in front of the US Embassy in downtown Phnom Penh in January 2013. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

The ongoing story of garment workers left jobless by company closures in late December is fast becoming A Tale of Two Factories: one group of workers has everything before it, the other has nothing.

It’s this widening gulf between workers at Yung Wah Industrial and Kingsland Garment – accentuated by the government’s willingness to pay out wages and benefits in full at one factory and not the other – that has prompted calls for an insurance scheme to be established to protect garment workers hit by sudden closures.

“It’s a question of having a system in place,” Dave Welsh, American Center for International Labor Solidarity country manager, said yesterday. “There should be a proper insurance scheme. You could make it so that if you want to operate under [the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia] and be an exporter from the country, you have to be part of it.”

Such an initiative would be a realistic model in Cambodia’s $4 billion sector, Welsh said, and result in workers being guaranteed wages and benefits owed to them.

“You’re talking about only about 400 factories. Brands could subsidise it or it could be a tripartite thing.”

Kandal provincial deputy governor Phai Bun Chhoeun said yesterday that almost all of the 7,000-plus workers at Yung Wah, a Gap supplier, have now been paid what they are owed, courtesy of an unprecedented $6.5 million loan from the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

About 700 workers from the capital’s Kingsland garment factory, however, have yet to receive a single dollar.

An insurance scheme, Welsh said, would preclude factories in favourable areas or with government connections from being given priority and make the system of paying out workers much clearer.

“It’s good the workers [at Yung Wah] are being paid, but the problem is how does the government distinguish between Yung Wah and Kingsland?” Welsh said.

Since the closure of Kingsland, which had made underwear for Walmart and H&M, worker Or Sokuong has borrowed money from friends to get by.

“Other workers have been asked to leave their rental house. They’ve had to go and stay with their friends and relatives,” he said. “The government has to help us.”

More than 100 workers from Kingsland blocked National Road 2 on Saturday and Sunday, calling for such intervention, he said.

Workers had been offered $46 in seniority benefits for each year of work in the factory up to 10 years – a figure Sokuong said was much lower than they were owed.

“We cannot accept this,” he said, adding he alone was entitled to about $3,000. Kong Athit, vice-president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said the government had an obligation to establish an insurance scheme that provided a safety net to workers in the event of sudden closure.

“The government has to establish this,” he said. “And it has to keep watching and monitoring factories to ensure employers are not closing them down and fleeing,” he said.

Ken Loo, Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general, said that in the event of future closures, workers would benefit from the government’s planned social security fund, but it could be a couple of years before it took effect.

“Social security is not something that can be set up overnight,” he said, adding that GMAC does not have the capacity to establish a separate private insurance fund.

“We don’t have the human resources or the skills to organise or manage that,” he said.

“That kind of thing is the responsibility of the government and goes hand in hand with economic development.”

Officials from the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Social Affairs could not be reached.

 

To contact the reporter on this story: Shane Worrell at [email protected]
 

Mom Kunthear at [email protected]

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