Illegal Strike Leads to Fire At Factory

A factory building was set ablaze Monday at Goldfame En­terprises International Knitters Ltd after an illegal strike erupted in violence.

Khim Chankiri, Sa’ang district governor, said the factory building, in Kandal province’s Sitbo commune, was 80 percent de­stroyed.

“The workers got so angry and violent they pushed open the factory’s gate and burned down one building,” he said. The workers were frustrated that they were unable to resolve a dispute about piecework, he said.

Factory officials would say little about the situation.

“It is under control. We have tried to solve the problem for the work­ers,” said Sam Yu, general manager for Goldfame and its related facility, Pak Shun Knitting Fac­tory Ltd.

He would not discuss how the fire started or the extent of the damage, but said the factory will not be open for business today.

Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said a number of different unions are trying to represent the nearly 4,000 workers at the factory.

He said his members were last at Goldfame over the weekend, when they attempted to help negotiate a settlement between the angry workers and the company.

“I left them two days ago, and now I am sorry to hear Goldfame has been burned down,” said Chea Vichea, adding that he had heard reports that as many as 70 workers had been injured.

Chea Vichea said the FTU does not condone violence for any reason. “I condemn those worker representatives who lead their people to burn the buildings,” he said.

Police said no arrests have been made.

The company has been the scene of labor unrest for several months.

It holds contracts with a number of well-known US retailers, including The Limited/Structure and Mervyn’s.

Workers accused company management of illegally blocking their attempts to form a union, while company officials say they have no objections to unions, but simply want their workers to follow Cambodian labor law.

Workers have filed complaints with the Ministry of Labor. Earlier this month, they asked garment unions in the US to complain to US buyers about the alleged union-busting tactics.

But Monday’s events stemmed from a different dispute. Two weeks ago, workers complained to the company that they were being paid too little for piecework, a system under which each worker is paid a set amount for each “piece” he or she finishes.

Negotiations were held last week, and a tentative agreement reached, but workers rejected it.

Khim Chankiri said workers assembled again Monday morning at the factory to protest the failure to reach an acceptable agreement. Other sources said a decision to block the company gates escalated into a fracas. After several people were injured, the strikers stormed into the compound and set the building ablaze, the sources said.

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