Workers Protest for Speedy Pay After Fire Destroys Factory

The roughly 900 employees of a Phnom Penh garment factory gutted by a fire that killed a Chinese supervisor on Monday protested in front of their old workplace on Thursday to demand a quick payout of their final paychecks and severance.

The Chinese-owned Cheng Sheng Garment factory, which made clothes for U.S. retailer Kmart, had arranged for the former factory owner to provide its out-of-work employees loans of up to $100 each starting on Monday to tide them over while the factory sorted out its finances.

However, Cheat Sreymath, an employee of the factory, said Thursday that she and her colleagues were not satisfied with the offer.

“We cannot wait for months for them to find a solution for us because we have to pay our rent and other expenses to live,” she said. “Although the former owner agreed to loan us money, we are unhappy with this because the factory owes us a lot more money…. We want to put pressure on the factory and authorities to find a solution for us because we have not heard anything from them.”

Sieng Yot, a legal officer for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, which represents workers at the factory, said they will organize a march on the Ministry of Labor next week if their demands are not met by then.

“We will march to the Ministry of Labor next week if there is no solution for us this week…because our workers cannot wait for months and they have not money to live,” he said.

Hel Phalla, the factory’s head of administration, said the factory was unlikely to reopen given the scale of the damage and did not know what sort of compensation the workers would receive.

“We think the factory will not open again because it completely burned,” she said. “We don’t know what to do because the owner has not returned [from abroad], so we can’t promise them anything yet.”

The National Police is heading the investigation into the fire.

Lieutenant General Mok Chito, who heads the National Police force’s central judicial department, said they had yet to identify the cause.

“We are investigating and we do not yet have the result,” he said. “When we get it we will announce it.”

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