Garment Factory Gives In to Union Demands

The country’s largest garment factory—accused recently of threatening, beating and even attempting to shoot troublesome workers—has agreed to rehire a union leader and permit union organizing, a union representative said Monday.

“We understand each other and have solved this problem,” Kao Poeun, international relations officer with the Coalition of Apparel Workers, known as CCAWDU, said of the agreement signed Thursday.

Kao Poeun said the agreement resulted from complaints by the union to the Gap, the US-based retailer that buys most of the factory’s products, and to Unite, a US union coalition.

Korean-owned Sam Han Cam­bo­dia Fabrics employs 9,000 workers at its Russei Keo district factory. Sam Han also owns the factory across the street, known as MS International, employing 500 people.

Union leaders at both factories say they were threatened and offered bribes to stop organizing at the factory since union activities began almost a year ago. Union President Soum Tola said he was shoved by a manager July 24, bruising his leg. Then, on  Sept 1, several men tackled him from behind as he left his house for work, beating him with their fists. He said he suspected the men were hired by the factory.

“I’m afraid if I go to work again, they will beat me,” he said last month.

On Thursday the factory agreed to rehire Soum Tola and pay $300 in compensation for the shoving incident, Kao Poeun said. It also agreed to educate managers to allow organizing and to hold monthly meetings with the union, he said.

But Soum Tola is not the only worker to claim mistreatment by the factory. Chhun Sophea, union leader at MS, said he was struck from behind by an iron bar Sept 4 as he returned to the factory from a lunch break. He resigned from the factory shortly thereafter.

Until recently, some guards and supervisors carried guns in the factory, union officials said. Worker Chem Vesal wrote a letter to the union that when he was fired in April, he asked a supervisor for the $130 he had paid for the job. When Chem Vesal threatened to sue, the supervisor pointed a gun at him and threatened to shoot him, he claimed.

Then on Sept 2, factory supervisor Noun Bun Nem responded to an insult by a worker with gunfire, said Lay Sivutha, deputy commune police chief of Tuol Sangke commune, Russei Keo district. One worker was hit in the foot and a guard was hit in the cheek. The shooter was arrested but has since compensated the victims and been released, police said.

Police knew that “three or four” guns were being kept in the factory, with the other weapons being held by guards, Lay Sivutha said.

Tuol Sangke commune Police Chief Khath Darasy said the beatings were still being investigated and suggested they were robberies. Union officials accused police of not taking the case seriously.

Sam Han factory manager Park Byoung Park attributed the beatings to fights inside his factory stemming from interpersonal conflicts and denied that factory management orchestrated beatings outside the factory.

Workers interviewed outside the factory said that robberies did sometimes occur outside the factory at night. The beatings of the union leaders, however, occurred during the day.

A union steward, Larn Pich, said he had not seen guns in the factory since the police banned them. But he also said he had been beaten twice with a belt by a guard after bringing up union-related issues.

Complaints about guns have stopped since the factory re­placed its own guards with guards from an outside company, Kao Poeun said. Park denied that guns or other weapons were allowed in the factory.

The factory has also switched from operating 24 hours—and not paying the mandated double-time for night wages—to two regular shifts, Kao Peoun said. This has led to fewer claims of illegal forced overtime, he said.

“I have seen the factory change a lot,” he said.

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