SL Workers Demand Representatives Reinstated

About 200 workers protested outside SL Garment Factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district Wednesday demanding that managers reinstate 19 union representatives before a 15-day deadline set by the government elapses.

The Council of Ministers has ordered the factory to rehire the fired unionists or face punitive measures by the Ministry of Labor, an order factory director Joseph Kee Leung Lee promised to follow Monday.

But SL’s general manager and founder both said Wednesday that the workers’ reinstatement was not ensured.

“It’s not about whether we accept back the workers or we don’t accept back the workers. We have never said that, that’s only what the government said,” said Raymond Wong, the company founder, by telephone.

“We have not promised anything yet to accept them,” he said. “There is still no result, we are still discussing.”

General Manager Koh Chong Ho signed off on the letter from the government to confirm its receipt, effectively starting the 15-day countdown, but said he does not see a solution on the horizon.

“We got the letter from the government to reinstate the workers, but I haven’t received any instructions to do so,” he said. “Maybe [Mr. Wong] will decide not to.”

However, Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said the order stood.

“If the factory still do not accept it, we will take legal action against them,” he said.

Outside the factory, the workers pledged to keep up their protests unless the government order was followed.

“We will keep doing the demonstration until they accept the 19 representatives,” said Siang Yot, a legal officer for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, of which a majority of the workers are members.

“We do the demonstration, because the company does not follow the government directive and we call on the company to heed the Council of Ministers’ notice.

“If they follow the government’s directive and accept the 19 workers, we will go work as normal, but if they still do not accept them, we will call for a nationwide protest and international support since we have the Council of Ministers’ notice,” Mr. Yot added.

(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers and Dene Hern-Chen)

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