Nearly 100 construction workers accepted a $100 handout from an employer to return to their hometowns after work was suspended at a construction site in Preah Sihanouk province’s commune four.
The workers had been living on the abandoned site, owned by the company, Thay Soer, while waiting for their wages.
On the afternoon of March 27, the workers gathered to protest in front of a 12-storey unfinished building on the site after their employer cut off their electricity at their temporary homes and forced them to leave without being paid.
Noeur Sokorm, a construction worker from Battambang province, told The Post on Monday that she had started working at the site a year ago.
She said the employer recently encouraged all its workers to work overtime and complete their work soon. The employer claimed that when the work is complete, he would pay them their total wages.
But when Covid-19 broke out, she said, the employer announced that all workers should go home without their past due wages of over two months.
“We worked for the contractor and they kept allowing us to work overtime. When the work was complete, we will be paid all wages, they said.
“When we laid tiles day and night, they said that they didn’t have wages, and they suspended the worksite. We must be owed over $2,000 or $3,000,” she said.
Piseth Theara, a construction forewoman in charge of laying bricks and supervising workers, confirmed that after the protest, the company gave each worker $100 to return home.
She said the company claimed it would pay them more on April 30. But she’s concerned that it will pay the workers only, not the contractors, who haven’t reached a deal with the company yet.
“The company gave us $6,000 and we shared it with the workers. It said to take that amount to cope with food first.
“Wait for Monday, we’ll solve your problem further, they said. On Monday, the firm gave another $3,000 and we shared only $100 with workers, now the money is gone,” Theara said.
She said the company had not yet paid all the workers and it owed them more than $30,000. She expects the relevant authorities will intervene to find a solution for them. If the deadline comes and a solution is not found, the workers will renew the protest.
Thay Soer company’s representative could not be reached for comment on Monday.
“[The company] allowed all the workers to leave the construction site in fear of the Covid-19 infections. But it didn’t pay them any money. How will they leave? They have laboured to work at the site. Without the money, the workers refused to leave.
“I take pity on them. The workers have wives and children. When they are forced to go home, they don’t have money. How can they go home without anything to eat?” she asked.
Preah Sihanouk provincial Department of Labour and Vocational Training director Yov Khemara told The Post on Monday that it will continue to monitor the case.
He said the firm had also agreed to offer the workers some compensation and are continuing to solve the case.
“[The company] breached the trust of the contractor. When they don’t know with whom to file a complaint, they come to file the complaint with the department. The department is helping them,” Khemara said.