Over 1,000 garment workers from the W&D factory did not return to work on Monday despite government mediation attempts. They said they remained concerned over pressure from the factory management and their colleagues being fired.
Their concerns come following the revelation that some protesting workers, mostly union leaders deemed to be ‘inciters’, will not be rehired despite providing thumbprints to show they have agreed to return to work.
Bun Samnal, who is among the fired garment workers, told The Post that he would not be able to return to work.
He said after several meetings with ministry and factory representatives over the issue of seniority indemnity, a number of garment workers, including him, were blacklisted for allegedly inciting other workers to protest.
“They asked us to provide thumbprints, but then they said they will only take back young people. They did not rehire some senior male workers, pregnant women and older people."
“Today the factory issued a list of nearly 100 workers who have been sacked. My name was included and I cannot accept it. They let other workers go back to work but did not take several of us back,” Samnal stressed.
The protests initially started on December 24 over pay and conditions, most prominently the issue of seniority indemnity – security payments given to workers twice a year in lieu of severance pay.
The factory subsequently issued an ultimatum – supported by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court – that striking workers return to their jobs within 48 hours or they would be terminated.
The workers responded to the ultimatum by occupying the factory, with representatives saying they would not back down until their demands were met. Consequently, the factory issued a press release on January 4 naming 1,200 workers who had lost their jobs.
While the factory has since backed down on the 1,200 sackings, there remains an unverified list of workers deemed to be “inciters” who haven’t received their jobs back.
W&D factory worker Sam Srey Mom said she did not agree to return to work because the factory had sacked several of her co-workers. She said the sackings were a threat to workers considering taking part in future strikes.
“Several workers who agreed to give thumbprints to go back to work were told by the factory several hours later that they were not rehired. Therefore, some workers decided not to return and keep protesting."
‘Pressure and divide us’
“They do this to put pressure and divide us. The number of workers who did not return to work was far higher than the number of people who agreed to go back,” Srey Mom said.
W&D factory administration head Meas Saret told The Post that 600 of the striking workers had returned to work, while 1,000 refused. He said it was the workers’ right whether to return or not, but denied the allegation that the factory management had pressured them.
“I don’t know which workers gave thumbprints because I never received it. This is a lie, the factory did not put pressure on them. The factory has always followed the law if workers followed the law,” he said.
Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training spokesman Heng Sour told The Post on Tuesday that the factory agreed to accept returning workers on Saturday. He said all workers had been rehired except 10, who were sacked due to evidence of incitement.
“The law will protect workers who abide by it, but people who have the intention of violating the law should worry."
“According to evidence, including pictures and video clips, there were a small number of people who wanted to violate the law. Despite this, the ministry asked the factory to re-employ some of the 10 people that were fired,” he said.
The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union president, Ath Thorn, said the workers did not return because they were worried that the factory might pressure them after they went back to work.
‘Some unions misled workers’
“What the worker want, first of all, are proper working conditions. They don’t want the factory to fire them whenever it pleases. Without a proper agreement, workers will suffer,” Thorn said.
Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia Deputy Secretary-General Kaing Monika told The Post that unions had misled workers, inciting them to protest using misinformation.
“All the relevant parties – the factory, ministry and lawyers – already explained the issues to workers."
“Previously, the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training already issued a statement about seniority indemnity and ensured workers that they will not lose it. However, a small number of unions incite and cause problems in this sector,” he said.