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W&D workers protest sackings

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Hundreds of workers from the W&D factory protest at Phnom Penh Municipal Court demanding their colleagues be reinstated. Heng Chivoan

W&D workers protest sackings

More than 100 workers from the W&D factory gathered in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday in a show of support for six representatives who are appealing the ruling over their dismissal.

The owner of the W&D factory fired some 1,200 employees early last month after protests demanding improved conditions.

The factory issued an ultimatum – supported by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court – that the striking workers return to their jobs within 48 hours or be dismissed.

The workers responded to the ultimatum by occupying the factory, with their representatives saying they would not give in until the factory owners met their demands.

Soeun Bros, one of the six workers representatives, told The Post on Monday that the workers had followed the court-supported ultimatum that required them to return to work between January 2-3.

He said factory owners then sacked the nearly 1,200 workers anyway, with factory representatives claiming the workers failed to comply with the ultimatum. The workers appealed the ultimatum on January 24.

“On December 31 last year, the Arbitration Council ordered striking workers to return to work."

“To follow the court-imposed ultimatum, the workers returned to work for an afternoon on January 2 and another on January 3, but they were still sacked on January 4. That’s why we appealed the court’s and Arbitration Council’s decision,” he said.

Lim Borei, another of the six, said the workers had less work to do after the factory had taken away some of its equipment during the strike. That, he said, prompted the factory owners to complain to the court and Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training before dismissing the workers.

“Some workers had nothing to do after the factory removed the equipment, leaving only a small amount of material. With nothing to do, some workers sat or slept. Photos were taken as proof of inaction only in sections where workers sat around. They didn’t take photos of those who could work,” he said.

The workers who gathered before the municipal court on Monday said the court had upheld the ultimatum despite their protest.

Factory representative and defence lawyer, Taing Meng, told The Post on Monday that factory owners had merely followed legal procedure.

“The workers appealed the ultimatum because they want to go back on strike,” he said.

Seang Yuth, an official at the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), disagreed, saying the workers had asked the court to reverse its decision because the ultimatum violated their rights.

“[The ultimatum] seemed to prohibit workers from peaceful protest and violated their rights to express their opinions, which is guaranteed by the Constitution,” he said.

On Wednesday last weeek, Prime Minister Hun Sen called on factory owners to stop dismissing workers as a way to end disputes.

Instead, he urged dialogue and instructed the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training to ensure all legal mechanisms are followed to avoid protests.

A union leader hailed the prime minister’s comments, saying protection from the prime minister regarding unfair dismissal is a positive development for Cambodian workers.

“I call on all factory owners to not use dismissal in disputes. Dialogue between factory owners, unions and worker representatives is really the best way,” he told around 10,000 garment workers from 34 factories in Kandal province on Wednesday.

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