Hun Sen Set to Weigh In on SL Garment Factory Dispute

Officials at the Ministry of Labor who mediated talks Wednesday between the management of SL Garment Factory and union leaders who have led a three-month-long strike at the factory said that they would send the results of the meeting to Prime Minister Hun Sen to review the dispute.

The meeting came one day after a bystander was shot dead during clashes between police and protesting SL workers.

“Tomorrow I will submit the report to the head of the government Prime Minister Hun Sen to [look at] this case,” said Sat Samuth, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Labor who led the meeting at the ministry.

Mr. Samuth said that while the two sides had agreed in principle to a number of conditions, they failed to agree on whether 19 sacked union leaders would be allowed to return to work at the factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district.

“The factory owner, he has disagreed with [the demand] that 19 union activists can keep working at his factory, and he raised the reason that unions have brought damage to his factory,” said Mr. Samuth.

SL factory management agreed to pay 50 percent of wages to workers who have been striking for the past three months, as well as putting in place guarantees that those workers will not face intimidation or harassment upon returning to work, Mr. Samuth said.

Mr. Samuth added that Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng would personally meet with Meas Sotha, a shareholder in the factory whose removal has been a key demand of striking workers.

Ken Loo, the secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that while he was not present at the negotiations, he was aware of the SL factory owner’s position.

“These 19 workers…the factory has sued them for various offenses including…damages because they have organized violent strikes and I believe there have also been cases of incitement of workers to conduct illegal strikes,” Mr. Loo said.

“I think the factory is prepared to accept the outcome of this litigation. So, I am sure if the court rules in favor of the 19 workers, the factory would have to accept ruling and take them back. But of course if the court ruled in favor of the factory, they would not be taken back,” he said.

A manager of the SL factory, who gave his name only as Mr. Lee, declined to say which court the case has been filed with or when a decision was expected.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, of which the majority of SL workers are members, said that strikes would not stop until the 19 union leaders are reinstated.

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