Claiming they had not been properly compensated, more than 20 former garment workers protested Friday at a shuttered Chinese-owned factory in the city’s Tuol Kok district as the company’s equipment was removed from the premises under police protection.
The protesting workers said the garment factory’s assets should not have been removed from the premises until they were paid what was owed to them under the labor law. The assets could have been sold to pay what they were owed by the factory, the protestors said.
“The [factory] boss and the building’s owner have colluded with each other, they are taking away our income,” said Cheng Sokleang, as trucks carried sewing and other machines away from the plant.
Ms Sokleang said that she had been working at the factory for more than 10 years when it closed in September.
“The sewing machines and other equipment–this does not belong to the building’s owner,” she said.
Tuol Kok district authorities and workers interviewed on Friday said the owner of the Jin Chan clothing factory disappeared last September and sent a notice to the building owner saying he could sell the equipment to pay off the firm’s bad debts.
The building’s owner then reached a settlement with more than 400 workers employed there to cover outstanding salaries and a $25 seniority bonus.
“We have already settled the amount [paid to the workers]. This factory is bankrupt,” said the building’s owner, Sok Chea, by way of explanation for his claim on the factory’s equipment.
Mr Chea said he was too busy to answer further questions and then told reporters they had to stay outside the factory grounds.
But some 40 workers refused to take the settlement claiming that they were owed far more under the labor law for their years of work at the company.
“I told those workers they could complain to the authority or the Ministry of Labor, but they did not,” Tuol Kok deputy district governor Sang Sopheakvichet said of his decision to allow the equipment be taken from the shut down factory.
At the factory on Friday, armed police and military police, some carrying shields and batons, protected the factory’s entrance, occasionally helping vehicles back through the gates. Inside, men loaded truck after truck with sewing machines and bags of excess fabric while the protestors looked on dejectedly.
“They are very rude, they are treating us like animals, not like humans,” said Vy Sreymom, as she tended to a crying woman whom workers said sustained slight injuries when the police pushed back protestors to let the building owner’s car through.
The deputy governor denied his orders were responsible for the rough treatment of the female protesters by police deployed to the operation.
“I ordered my authorities to provide security in case the two sides fought each other; I did not order them to fight the workers,” he said.
While Cambodia saw 93 garment factories close between January and November of last year, few were shuttered for reasons of bankruptcy, said the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia.
“As far as we are aware, looking at the [recessionary] figures from about June 2008 to the end of last year, I don’t think there have been many cases where factories have closed due to bankruptcy,” said Ken Loo, GMAC secretary-general.
“I don’t think there is any data to suggest the number [of bankruptcies] has gone up,” he said, noting that factories were closing to relocate or even change industries.
Compensation claims which laid-off workers can make under the labor law-such as indemnity or damages-don’t apply in the case of bankruptcy, he said, adding that if an owner declares bankruptcy, workers can retrieve only unpaid salary.
“Very often workers claim the owners ran away and try and file more claims under the labor law,” Mr Loo said.
“It is rare when owners run away…[and in the case of bankruptcy] workers are owed only what they are owed.”