Rescued Garment Workers Want to Remain in Cambodia

Many of the 51 garment workers taken from a Phnom Penh garment factory 11 days ago say they hope to remain in Cambodia to work, at least while they wait for the outcome of their case against the factory.

The 34 Vietnamese workers said they want to find a factory in Cambodia that will treat them fairly and pay them well so they can save some money before returning home to their families. The 17 Chinese workers said they want to return to China, but must get the money they say the company owes them first.

The workers were rescued Feb 19 by police from GT Garment (Cambodia) Co Ltd, where they say they were held against their will, forced to work overtime, and paid far lower wages than they’d been prom­ised.

Factory Director Philip Chang has denied all wrongdoing and has called the case a “misunderstanding.”

Formal statements from police and workers were sent to Muni­cipal Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath on Monday. He said he was reviewing the documents and would decide on what—if any—charges to file against the company.

Possible charges include illegal detention, withholding personal property or illegal trafficking, according to a human rights worker from local NGO Licadho, which helped rescue the workers.

The workers are the front-line soldiers of the fastest-growing industry in Cambodia, one which provides work for nearly 100,000 people and produces 90 percent of the country’s exports. But—if their claims are true—they are also an example of industry abuses still occurring, human rights experts say.

But one industry official who believes labor protests are threatening to undermine the industry cautioned against those who might seek to raise wage stand­ards in Cambodia even more.

In the US, “people want to go to Kmart [department stores] and buy cheap clothes,” said Roger Tan, secretary-general for the Garment Manufacturers Assoc­iation in Cambodia. “It can only be cheaper if the labor is lower….Nobody wants to face the reality.”

Workers have not complained against the salaries they should have gotten, but say they were not paid overtime and were held against their will.

Despite their experiences at GT Garment, the Vietnamese workers say they want to continue to work in Cambodia, where they say they can potentially earn more money and under better conditions than in Vietnam.

In Vietnam, for example, worker Nguyen Thi Vinh, 23, said she earned a salary of $100 per month, working 11 hours per day with Sunday off.

But here in Cambodia, workers were hopeful they could earn as much as $200 to $300 per month counting overtime as “skilled workers,” hoping to save a “couple thousand dollars” before returning to their families, according to the Licadho rights worker.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is providing all of them with proper working documents, the Licadho worker said. Now they must find a factory willing to hire them. However, some factories are hesitant to hire Vietnamese workers who have already work­ed in Cambodia, preferring those who come straight from Viet­nam, the rights worker said.

The Chinese workers displayed less enthusiasm for staying in the country, although they said they wanted to work until they are reimbursed for overtime pay they say they are owed.

“We wish to have our salaries…back so we can go home to our country as soon as possible,” said Kao Ye Ping, a 27-year-old worker from Chang­zhou.

The Chinese workers are planning to meet with government officials and factory management Thursday to negotiate salary reimbursement, the Licadho worker said.

Factory director Chang said by telephone Monday that he wants the case to be closed.

“I want to finish,” he said. “We are businessmen—we have no time to play games with this case.”

(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara)










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