Workers Say Shuttered Factory Managers Took Them Hostage

A Chinese-owned garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Chbar Ampov district locked up about 300 workers for two hours on Wednesday morning to force them to accept reduced salary payouts before it shuttered operations due to financial losses, union officials and the former workers said Thursday.

Managers at the Kui Xing factory, which made pajamas, locked its employees inside the plant at about 9 a.m., when they came to collect their monthly salary, and did not let them out until 11 a.m., when most of them had thumb-printed documents foregoing owed salary, the workers said.

Police were stationed outside the factory throughout the morning.

“About 300 workers were locked up by the factory in order to force the workers to accept their wages and benefits, since they said they cannot operate the factory any more,” said Ry Sithyneth, a Free Trade Union (FTU) official at the factory.

“The authorities were uniformed police, a few were in the factory and some stood outside the factory, while the factory had a locked door and did not allow the workers to get out,” he said.

FTU president Chea Mony added that the forms signed by the workers to accept the money were written in Chinese.

Sen Buntha, 43, who said she worked at Kui Xing for 10 years, described the atmosphere as threatening.

“The factory locked the door and forced the workers to accept the money, and if they did not accept it, they would not let us out and not give us our salaries, so most of the workers accepted the money,” Ms. Buntha said.

“The factory provided us $550 for everything,” she said, adding that she was owed unpaid salary, extra benefits and her annual bonus worth a total of $2,400.

Chbar Ampov I commune police chief Hun Sophal confirmed that his officers had been deployed to the Kui Xing factory but said it was because 40 workers were protesting.

“We just went there to protect our workers since they were protesting or striking, therefore we had to try to prevent violence,” he said, adding that he did not believe the workers were pressured into taking reduced payments.

“All of the workers accepted the money…. The factory did not lock or force the workers to take the money.”

Kui Xing appears to have no listed phone numbers and is not a member of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which all export factories are required to join, but Mr. Sithyneth, the union official, said the factory belongs to the larger Sun Sky company.

Sok Kheng, 50, a security guard at Kui Xing, said the factory’s property had been moved to Sun Sky’s plant after it closed.

“The factory transported all the clothes and machines to Sun Sky before it shut down,” Mr. Kheng said, also saying that he did not believe the workers were coerced.

“We did not lock the door, we just closed the door and the factory did not force the workers to take the money.”

A representative of Sun Sky, which is a member of GMAC, could not be reached Thursday and GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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