Nearly 70 workers from the now-defunct Chung Fai garment factory yesterday temporarily blocked a major national highway for an hour during a protest demanding up to half a million dollars in compensation, sparking the ire of motorists but winning some concessions with the dramatic move.
Chung Fai worker representative Khorn Chiven said the protesters “had no choice” but to block National Road 2 in Meanchey district after the factory closed and the owners fled in June last year, leaving workers without their final month’s salary.
“The employers do not announce they are officially bankrupt because they wanted to escape from paying severance pay to the workers, some of whom have worked here more than 10 years,” Chiven said.
“After the protest this morning, the owner of the building agreed to buy some machinery [left] in the building for $40,000, but we do not accept it. Our wages and severance pay total nearly $500,000.”
The protesters have brought a case before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. One worker, Srey Na, said it was almost impossible to support her family.
“We do not have enough money to buy food and pay school fees for our children,” she said.
Videos posted to Facebook show motorists aggressively confronting the protesters.
“You need your salary, but we all need our salary, too. We will lose money if we get to work late. You should protest in front of the factory, not block the road like this,” one motorist says.
Chak Angre Krom commune chief Chea Sokhai said there was no violence and the protesters agreed to move at about 8:30am, after an hour had passed.
A man listed as a Chung Fai factory contact on the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia website yesterday claimed he was not involved with the Hong Kong-owned company.
The workers have protested steadily over the past week at Phnom Penh Tower, claiming retail giant Marks & Spencer – which has an office there – was complicit in their predicament.
A Marks & Spencer spokesperson yesterday maintained: “Chung Fai has never been a supplier to M&S. One of our suppliers used this factory to supply other retailers and we are in contact with this supplier to understand why these protests are being targeted at M&S.”
Sok Phany, a legal officer at labour NGO Solidarity Center, said yesterday that M&S had agreed to meet with workers today to prove their label was not produced at the factory. The M&S spokesperson did not confirm this by press time.