More than 2,000 workers from a textile company in Cambodia’s eastern Kampong Cham province on Wednesday threatened to block off a national highway if the firm’s management does not implement better working conditions mandated by an arbitration body.
The workers from the Manhattan Textile and Garment Corp. in the province’s Special Industrial Economic Zone marched to provincial government offices on Monday, vowing to seal off National Route 6, which links the capital Phnom Penh with neighboring Siem Reap province if their demands were not met.
The march marked the third day of protests against management at the Chinese-run factory, which supplies medical uniforms to two U.S.-based companies and a company in the UK.
Anti-riot police, military police, and regular police officers were deployed to monitor the demonstration but did not intervene.
Free Trade Union representative Yann Rothkeopeisei said following the protest that a deputy provincial governor had promised to help resolve the arbitration issues.
“The provincial authorities must ensure that the company respect national labor laws and comply” with the Cambodian Arbitration Council’s decision made late last year, he said.
A female employee who asked to remain anonymous said factory management is refusing to work with unions and has abused the rights of the workers.
“The factory has pressured us. We are afraid of the Chinese [manager]. In the past, we wouldn’t dare complain or they would fire us,” she said.
Another employee expressed similar concerns about the treatment of workers at the plant.
“Security personnel would search the entire body of each worker after they finished their shift,” she said.
In October 2011, Cambodia’s Arbitration Council ruled in favor of the workers on five out of 12 requests, but Manhattan Textile and Garment management refused to comply, according to worker representatives.
The Arbitration Council ordered that any workers who have worked at the factory for longer than two years be recognized as permanent employees so that they can receive full benefits in addition to minimum wage.
It said that the factory must provide a bonus of two months’ salary for workers on permanent contracts who have resigned and allow workers to wear shoes at work to protect their safety.
The council also ruled that workers whose contracts were not renewed immediately after they expired should receive extra money for the time they worked without a contract.
It further said that the company must pay one month’s salary and other financial benefits to one former worker, who fellow workers claim was unfairly dismissed.
Manhattan Textile and Garment Corp. Administrative Manager Sam Seyha refused to comment when contacted by RFA, but had previously told the Phnom Penh Post that the company would not go against an Arbitration Council decision.
Provincial Labor Department Director Cheng Heang said he is waiting for the Arbitration Council to enforce its decision. He said that if the factory refused to comply with the decision, his department would file a complaint with the court.
Cambodia’s textile industry, which is the country’s third-largest currency earner after agriculture and tourism, has been rocked by more than six incidents of mass fainting in recent months and nearly a dozen in the past year.
They are mostly blamed on workers' poor health, bad ventilation in the workplace, or exposure to dangerous chemicals although some factory managements have disputed this.
Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.