SL Factory Refuses to Reinstate Fired Union Representatives

The owner of Phnom Penh’s embattled SL Garment Factory in a meeting Monday refused to reinstate 19 fired union representatives, despite last week being given 15 days by the Ministry of Labor to do so or face punitive measures.

After emerging from a four-hour meeting with factory owner Wong Hon Ming and worker representatives, So Samuth, undersecretary of state at the Labor Ministry, said by telephone that Mr. Wong had refused to rehire the workers—who are alleged by SL to have damaged machinery during a riot and against whom the factory has filed a court complaint.

“In the end, the employers said strongly that they will go to the court to decide and if the court decides that the 19 representatives have to go back to work, he will accept it,” Mr. Samuth said.

“He is still holding the same stance as before.”

Mr. Samuth said the ministry would stick by its threat to take action if their order went unfollowed.

“After the deadline of the 15 days, we will send documents to the court to decide about the 19 representatives,” he said.

Last week, the factory’s general manager, Koh Chong Ho, acknowledged receipt of the ministry’s letter ordering SL to rehire the workers and also took note of the 15-day deadline, but said at the time that the decision whether or not to reinstate the workers would ultimately lie with Mr. Wong.

“We will follow according to the law and the order of the court,” Mr. Wong said Monday by telephone after the meeting. “It’s not according to me, it’s according to the court…. We have to wait until the court decides.”

Members of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) have been staging a roadblock outside the factory for weeks, insisting that they will not dismantle it until the 19 workers are allowed to return to their jobs.

“Our workers do not agree with the union leaders coming back, because they caused a lot of problems,” Mr. Wong said. “They are scared.”

CCAWDU did not send representatives to the meeting, but Kong Athit, the union’s vice president, said the court would take too long to solve the problem.

“We will push the government to make the factory follow their order,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)

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