Fire-Ravaged Factory’s Former Owner to Give Workers Loans

The former owner of a Phnom Penh garment factory gutted by a fire on Monday has agreed to provide loans to about 900 out-of-work employees until the current owner decides whether and how to pay them due wages and severance.

Authorities, meanwhile, said they still did not know what caused the blaze at the Chinese-owned Chang Sheng Garment factory, which killed one of the factory’s Chinese supervisors.

Hel Phalla, head of administration at the Pur Senchey district factory, said the current owner asked the previous owner, a personal friend, to help the workers cover their immediate expenses while the factory dealt with its insurance provider and decided what to do next.

“He is the former owner of the factory and a longtime friend of the current owner and he agreed to give loans to the workers so they can pay their rent and cover other living expenses,” she said.

Ms. Phalla said the loans would be handed out starting on Monday and go up to $100 per employee depending on how much of the previous pay period they had worked. The next payday was scheduled for August 10.

Hong Chenda, an employee of the factory and representative for the local branch of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, welcomed the plan.

“We are happy that the former owner will loan us money,” she said. “It is very kind of him because we are concerned we will not have money to pay our rent and living expenses.”

The union says the factory will also have to pay the workers severance if it decides not to reopen. Ms. Phalla did not say whether the factory would reopen or pay severance.

As for the cause of the fire, Phnom Penh Fire Department chief Neth Vantha said authorities still had not come to any conclusions and the National Police were now heading an inter-ministerial working group overseeing the investigation.

“We still do not know why the fire started and we are waiting for the owner to return from China and for the forensic team to cooperate with us,” he said.

He said the Chinese Embassy filed an official complaint over the fire and that it may also send its own experts to join the investigation.

Mr. Vantha added that witnesses whom investigators spoke with claimed that the fire started at 2 a.m., more than two-and-a-half hours before the time security guards told reporters they first noticed smoke coming out of the factory. He blamed those at the scene for trying to put out the fire on their own and claimed that authorities only got the call after most of the building was already consumed by flames.

Lieutenant General Mok Chito, who heads the National Police force’s central judicial department, said forensics officers were already on the scene.

“For a big case like this we need to investigate to find out whether it was an accident or whether someone caused it, so our experts have gone to investigate but they do not have any answer yet,” he said.

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