Workers and Management Square Off at Garment Factory

Workers and management gave differing accounts Thursday of a labor dispute at the Luen Thai Garment (Cambodia) Co Ltd that has led to work stoppages over the past week.

Fifty-six workers who demonstrated at the factory Thursday morning say they are upset over two firings and a number of other issues related to working conditions, while company officials say the workers are violating Cam­bodian labor law.

And in what may be a first for Cambodia, officials at Luen Thai issued a news release explaining their side of the story. Ninety-four percent of the company’s workers have remained on the job, the release notes.

On Feb 7, workers filed a seven-day notice to strike with the Ministry of Labor, saying the company improperly docks their wages and accusing supervisors of treating them unfairly.

Two days later, they filed another notice with the ministry listing additional problems, including forced overtime, overwork and bad-smelling drinking water.

On Monday, company officials, union representatives and negotiators from the Ministry of Labor met at the factory to resolve the disputes. One issue was the firing of a cleaning woman, Sou Mloup, for what the company said was incompetence.

While the meetings were going on, workers staged an illegal sitdown strike to protest Sou Mloup’s firing. Company officials say the workers did so because they were threatened by union activists. They returned to work at 2 pm.

According to the company, the factory has resumed normal operations except for the cutting section, which is headed by Lao Chhiv. Those workers remained off the job.

Lao Chhiv was told to get his workers back to work by 3 pm Wednesday or risk being fired. When he refused, he was terminated. “They fired me without reason,” he said Thursday.

Peter Strickland, Luen Thai vice president and general manager, said Thursday that Lao Chhiv has demanded $7,000 in severance pay. The company will not hire him back, Strickland said.

Lao Chhiv said Thursday that he doesn’t want the money, but he wants his job back. “I will continue to organize demonstrations if the factory doesn’t allow me to work,” he said.

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