Unions, Bosses Ink Deal to End SL Garment Factory Dispute

A year after violent clashes broke out between workers from the SL Garment Factory and gun-wielding security forces, leading to the shooting death of a bystander, representatives for workers and management at the factory signed off on a list of agreements this week to end the dispute.

The agreement, dated Monday, lists seven articles agreed upon during a meeting between representatives of the factory and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) at the Labor Ministry.

Among the points are that SL shareholder Meas Sotha, who has acted as a manager at the factory for much of the past two years, will no longer take part in day-to-day operations at the factory. The company also agreed to pay workers who protested in front of the factory gate for months last year a total of $300,000, about half of the wages they lost during the strikes.

CCAWDU accuses Mr. Sotha of attempting to stifle its organizing at the factory, which is owned by Hong Kong-born businessman Raymond Wong.

Mr. Wong’s company agreed to provide $150,000 to the employees in the next two weeks and the rest over the next 160 days. It also agreed to remove all complaints that were lodged against CCAWDU leaders, activists and staff at the SL factory.

CCAWDU President Ath Thorn, who appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court earlier this year for questioning over allegations of incitement of violence during the protests at SL, said Wednesday he was hopeful Mr. Sotha would adhere to the agreement.

“I don’t want to say anything about [Mr. Sotha’s] past behavior…he has promised to stop being involved in disputes between the factory and the workers in the future so we hope the problem won’t happen again,” Mr. Thorn said.

Mr. Sotha rose to the fore of what was then the highest-profile industrial dispute in the garment sector, with accusations that he was responsible for firing 19 union leaders and calling in military police to patrol the factory grounds.

Protests led by CCAWDU reached a crescendo in November last year, when workers were stopped from marching to the Phnom Penh home of Prime Minister Hun Sen, leading to clashes in which police fired into the crowd, killing food vendor Eng Sokhom, 49, who was standing at her stall near the site of the clashes.

This week’s agreement comes almost a year after SL workers returned to work following a previous agreement to remove Mr. Sotha from day-to-day operations at the factory.

Ven Davin, 23, an SL employee for nearly five years, held out little hope Wednesday that the company will stick to the agreement.

“The agreements do not give me much hope because they always promise and issue these statements but never keep to them,” she said.

Another worker, Khoun Phat, 26, said there might be further protests if the promised payments were not made in full.

“We will wait to see, but if not we may protest,” he said. “We have had so many promises from the factory in the past.”

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