Thousands of Cambodian factory workers are in a limbo after their employers bolted without paying them and say plans by the government to dispose of the factory assets to compensate them may not be adequate.
The workers have protested for two days in a row this week pleading with authorities to assist them in collecting back pay they say they are owed by the owner of two garment factories who went missing after incurring massive debt, representatives said.
Some 7,000 workers in southeastern Cambodia’s Kandal province from the Yung Wah Industrial Complex, which supplies western clothing retailer Gap, blocked traffic on National Road 21B in Takhmao town in solidarity with around 1,000 employees who said they are owed more than two months of salary by the company’s Singaporean owner, who fled the country in December.
The group held protests beginning at 6:30 a.m. and lasting all day, workers said, demanding that the government intervene on their behalf to collect the back pay.
Wednesday’s protest followed a similar one on Tuesday which saw more than 5,000 workers gathered on National Road 21B demanding intervention from the provincial labor department.
Worker Khuon Srey Mom said the company’s owner had fled the twin Yung Wah I and Yung Wah II factories in December last year after failing to receive any garment orders, but had said nothing to employees.
“I have been working and expecting a paycheck, but the factory hasn’t paid me. I have been forced to borrow money from other workers,” she said, adding that she had not received her wages since the beginning of January.
“I don’t have any money. Please give me my paycheck. If [the company] has to suspend us, at least please let us know.”
Another worker, Mao Sambath, said she has faced extreme financial difficulty since she stopped receiving her paychecks.
“I was forced to borrow money from the bank to pay my other debts,” she said.
Other workers said that the owner had taken most of the remaining merchandise and equipment to sell when he left the country.
Ath Thon, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union said that provincial officials had formed a committee to appraise the value of the complex and its equipment.
The move was in response to a complaint the union had filed with the provincial court requesting the seizure and auctioning of the properties in order to compensate workers.
But he said that the committee had found the remaining value of the company, which is mired in debt, to be of very little worth.
“The factory properties are worth less than what they owe the workers,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Workers on Thursday said they are now awaiting a court order which will allow authorities to seize Yung Wah’s holdings.
Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union representative Meas Vanny said that the factory’s management had earlier promised her that it was in no danger of shutting down the facility.
“But there have been no orders since December 2012 and the factory managers have already fled the country,” she said.
“There are about 1,000 workers who haven’t received a paycheck.”
Meas Vanny welcomed the move by provincial authorities to appraise the company’s property for auction, but said that the Ministry of Labor has yet to resolve the conflict.
She said that Kandal provincial labor officials had visited the factory, but hadn’t provided any details of their visit.
Provincial Labor Department officer Lim Sarom confirmed that he had visited the factory, but said he was too busy to speak with RFA's Khmer Service.
RFA was unable to reach factory management for comment.
But the Phnom Penh Post quoted Yung Wah Industrial administrative manager Seoun Hout as saying that he, too, had not received his salary.
“The employer is in Singapore, and he referred everything to the company lawyer,” he said, adding employees were waiting to hear from that lawyer.
Reported by Leng Maly for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.