About 100 workers from the Chung Fai Knitwear factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district protested in front of the capital’s municipal court yesterday, demanding a judge remove a fee they are unable to pay.
Most of the garment workers have been jobless since the Chinese owner of their factory fled the country on June 27, 2016.
He did not pay them their last month’s wages or provide a severance package, both standard practices for workers slated to lose their jobs.
Khorn Sivin, a representative of the workers, said yesterday that they came to protest because they want the court to give them an exemption from the four million riel ($1,000) tax that was levied against them when they filed the complaint against the factory and its owner.
“We filed the complaint to the court for help, but the court asked us to pay a tax on the complaint,” she said.
“We do not have the ability to pay the tax as we are facing very serious problems since our company’s owner ran away in June 2016 without paying anything to us, which is stated in the law.
“We have already filed a petition to the court for an exception on the tax for our complaint, but we have not yet received the results.”
Chung Fai Knitwear employed 208 workers at its factory, many of them aged between 18 and 19, who relied on the wages they earned at the factory to support themselves and their families. But after losing their jobs, many of the workers are living in desperate situations, forced to borrow money to cover costs while they look for new employment.
Ms. Sivin said they will gather in front of the court again if they do not get a resolution to their problem.
The Ministry of Labor is preparing to enact regulations that would provide some amount of monetary relief to workers left in the lurch by factory owners who flee the country.
The widespread practice has led to a number of months-long protests as more and more factory owners continue to leave without notifying any of their employees or paying them their final wages.
Labor Minister Ith Samheng downplayed the seriousness of the issue, telling a workshop crowd late last year that most employers were not fleeing the country after shutting their factories down.
“When factories do close, they always have financial problems that they need time to resolve for the benefit and wages of workers,” he said.
“However, the ministry will strive to ensure the interests of workers through the legal and administrative measures that we have.”
He claimed the number of factory closings was less than the number of factories opening in the kingdom.
However, senior officials from the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia told Khmer Times last year that 70 factories had closed and only 20 had opened in the first eight months of last year.
Phann Sophorn, another representative of the workers, said their employer fled the country last year without paying them their final month’s wages, bonuses and severance.
“When we contacted the Labor Ministry, they often passed our case from this place to that place, which makes us have no confidence in them anymore,” she said.
Her group of workers contacted the ministry when the Chinese owner of their factory and his top staff members fled on June 27.
The workers protested and begged local authorities to sell the remaining materials and machines left in the factory.
But more than six months later, they have yet to receive any word on their case.
They have gathered in front of the factory for months in fear that the owner or one of his associates would return and clear it out.
Administrative chief of the court Ey Rin said yesterday that the court had not yet made a decision on the issue since they had “recently” received the letter. But he said they will set a meeting and consider the case.
“The court will consider whether we can give them a tax break or not. We will send it to the judge and the judge will consider the case,” he said, adding that the court would try to do it as soon as possible.
He criticized the workers for their protest, claiming it was affecting the court’s ability to work.
Source: Khmer Times