Workers Threaten to Burn Banner of Brand

About 200 workers from a factory that supplies sportswear giant Puma delivered a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet on Friday calling attention to their demands that five-year employment contracts be replaced by one-year contracts, a union leader said.

Workers from the Malaysian- and Singaporean-owned Aketenex factory in Phnom Penh’s Mean­chey district have been striking for nine days, according to a union representative. 

They handed their petition to Pal Chandara, a member of the prime minister’s cabinet, in Wat Botum Park at around 9:30 a.m. on Friday.

“We are requesting that the factory director terminate the five-year contracts and pay [a $70 bonus] to the workers at the end of each year,” said Sut Chut, an official at the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW).

“If there is no intervention from Hun Sen’s cabinet or the Labor Ministry, we will carry a banner of Puma brand and burn it,” he said.

People who answered phone numbers listed for the factory declined to comment.

Responding to a email sent by CUMW, Reiner Hengstmann, Puma’s Global Director of Sustainability and Compliance, said the corporation was pushing Cambodia’s government to ensure that workers had the right to open-ended contracts.

“We have been informed that the case will be brought up to the Arbitration Council,” he said of the industrial dispute at Aketenex. “We do hope to have the final conclusion soon.”

Moeun Tola, who heads the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said that although there are certain financial benefits to one-year contracts, including 5 percent severance pay, the benefits are outweighed by the risks.

“I agree that there are immediate benefits for them but there are also plenty of consequences in short term contracts,” he said.

“When workers are under the short term contract they lose benefits like the right to annual leave and maternity leave.”

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