Representatives To Meet Over Factory Fire

Representatives for the employees and owners of a Phnom Penh garment factory gutted by a fire last month will meet at the Ministry of Labor today to try and hammer out a pay package for the workers, though a factory official said they would not make any decisions until the owner returned from abroad.

The Chinese-owned Cheng Sheng Garment factory, which makes clothes for U.S. retailer Kmart, was on July 28 completely gutted by a fire that killed one of the company’s Chinese supervisors and left its approximately 900 employees out of work.

Sieng Yot, a legal officer for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, which represents the workers, confirmed his union’s plans to attend today’s meeting and to press for severance pay for the employees, as well as their final paychecks.

“We will go to the Ministry of Labor…to talk about a solution for the workers,” he said. “We want the Ministry of Labor to hurry up and find a solution for the workers because they cannot wait any longer…. They need money to pay their expenses.”

The previous owner of the factory, a friend of the current owner, handed out about $85,000 in loans to the workers on Monday to tide them over, but the workers say they still want their last paychecks and severance pay as soon as possible.

Hel Phalla, the factory’s head of administration, said the factory would also join the meeting but added that it wouldn’t immediately be able to commit to any deal.

“We will go and listen, but we cannot make any decisions because our boss is not here,” she said.

The day of the fire, Ms. Phalla said the owner was in China. On Thursday, she said she did not know when he would return and that he has not answered his phone for the past few days.

Lieutenant General Mok Chito, who heads the National Police force’s central judicial department, said authorities were still investigating the fire and had yet to determine the cause.

A spokesman for the Labor Ministry could not be reached for comment.

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