Workers Supplying Wal-Mart Continue Protests

About 80 workers from a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district—which supplies women’s underwear to U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart—protested yesterday, demanding that the factory owner settle their severance payments, workers and union representatives said.

Workers at the Kingsland Garment Cambodia factory were told in September that they no longer had to come to work due to a lack of orders, but that they would be paid 50 percent of their salary each month until work resumed in January, said Phoung Phearum, 23, a worker at the factory.

In December, however, the workers stopped receiving paychecks and a factory union representative told them that the owners had declared bankruptcy and left the country.

As a result, about 200 workers have taken to protesting outside the factory’s gates since January 1. Twenty of those workers are now sleeping outside the factory at night after they caught factory staff attempting to remove the sewing machines in the middle of the night on January 4.

“We are demanding the owner pay us our severance, our annual bonuses, our firing salary and our final salary. We demand the factory pay us according to the Labor Law, and we will protest until we have a solution,” Mr. Phearum said, adding that he had worked at the same factory for five years and was owed more than $1,000 in compensation.

He also said workers had already submitted complaints to the ministries of labor and social affairs.

Moeun Tola, labor head of the Community Legal Education Center—which is providing legal aid and technical assistance to the protesting workers—said his organization is pushing for the case to be heard by the Arbitration Council.

“If the company closes, even if they have bankruptcy, the law requires the employer to pay severance pay, compensation and a notice to terminate the employment contract,” he said.

Kingsland’s failure to inform the workers’ of their situation is an example of Wal-Mart not making sure members of its supply chain treat workers in a fair manner, said Nick Rudikoff, global affairs coordinator of Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a U.S.-based union representing 5.5 million workers in different sectors.

“The situation in Kingsland is yet another example of injustice in Wal-Mart’s global supply chain,” said Mr. Rudikoff, who arrived in Cambodia on Thursday to investigate the situation. “Wal-Mart needs to make sure its suppliers follow the law, and the workers that have unfairly lost work and lost time working need to be fairly compensated.”

“We are standing in solidarity with the Kingsland workers and with workers around the world who make and transport goods for Wal-Mart.”

Huon Soeur, deputy director at the Ministry of Labor’s department of labor conflict, confirmed that the ministry had received the workers’ complaint but declined to comment further.

Representatives of Kingsland could not be reached for comment yesterday, and Wal-Mart representatives did not immediately respond to questions.

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