South Korea Denies Asking Gov’t to Stop Strike

The South Korean ambassador to Cambodia, Kim Han-soo, on Monday denied having asked the Labor Ministry to stop a strike at a South Korean-owned garment factory last week, but said the dispute has put a $40 million investment from the parent company on hold.

On Sunday, Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor said that the ambassador met with Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng on Wednesday to ask that the government “intervene” in a strike at the Cambo Handsome factory in Phnom Penh.

“They want the ministry to comply with the law…to order them [the factory employees] to go back to work,” Mr. Suor had said.

On Monday, however, Ambassador Kim insisted that he did not ask the ministry to stop the strike, and had only asked that the strikers be informed that their demand for severance pay was in violation of the Labor Law because they were not on fixed-term contracts.

“I said the labor dispute must be settled through dialogue…in accordance with the legal procedure,” Mr. Kim said.

But because the strikers were asking for something the factory legally could not give them, he said, the factory and embassy felt that the government had to step in. “It was out[side] of the Labor Law, so it could not be handled by the employer, that’s why I asked the Labor Ministry to get involved,” he said.

He said he asked the minister to: “Please send your officials, your deputies, to explain the basic stipulations of the Labor Law.”

Mr. Kim said the strike was in any case over. He said the strikers had agreed to drop their severance pay demand and head back to work today with the promise that the factory would continue to negotiate on the raising of benefits and allowances for workers.

Khmer Union Federation president Loy Lun said the strikes would restart if the negotiations did not bear fruit within two weeks.

He also confirmed that Khieu Savuth, deputy director of the Labor Ministry’s labor dispute department, came to the factory to explain the Labor Law to workers. But he said the visit came on last Monday or Tuesday, before Mr. Kim’s meeting with Mr. Sam Heng.

Mr. Savuth declined to comment and referred questions to Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Suor, who could not be reached.

Cambo Handsome did not reply to a request for comment.

It is one of seven garment factories in Cambodia owned by Hansoll, a South Korean company.

Mr. Kim said Hansoll was preparing to invest an addition $40 million to build more garment factories in Cambodia but decided to “postpone” the decision in the wake of the strike at Cambo Handsome.

He said the investment could potentially double the approximately 12,000-strong workforce its factories employ here and that its loss would be “a very big blow to the Cambodian economy.”

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