Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has promised to compensate thousands of garment workers demanding back pay they say they are owed since their factory owner fled the country to escape mounting debt, according to officials.
Around 7,000 workers in Kandal province from the Yung Wah Industrial Complex, which supplies western clothing retailer Gap, blocked traffic on National Road 21B in Takhmao town for two straight days last week to back their demands for more than two months of salary by the company’s Singaporean owner, who fled the country in December.
Kandal provincial labor department director Thol Neang told RFA’s Khmer Service Tuesday that Hun Sen had ordered the Ministry of Labor to pay the workers and that local officials had begun registering their names in order to compensate them.
“Samdech [Hun Sen] ordered the government to use the national budget to pay the workers according to their demands,” Thol Neang said, using the prime minister’s honorific title.
“We will resolve the workers’ demands, as we have already stated,” he said.
Thol Neang refused to elaborate on how much the government planned to pay the workers.
Yung Wah Complex Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union representative Oum Visal said the government would have to spend about U.S. $8 million to compensate the 7,000 workers.
“The workers are happy. They never thought they would succeed in their demands,” Oum Visal said.
But he said that the workers were still skeptical about how the funds would be transferred to them.
“They are concerned that corrupt officials will take the money [from the government],” he said.
Union officials said that each worker would be eligible to receive U.S. $200-$2,000 in compensation, based on their seniority.
Workers greeted Tuesday’s announcement with enthusiasm.
Last week, the union had filed a motion with the provincial court requesting that authorities seize Yung Wah’s remaining assets and auction them off in a bid to pay employees their back wages. But reports suggested that the value of the property was insufficient to fully compensate the workers.
Workers say 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. They say they have been forced to borrow money from coworkers and the bank in order to make ends meet while they wait for their wages.
The Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union said last week that the factory’s management had earlier promised that it was in no danger of shutting down the facility.
But even company officials were caught off guard by the move, with at least one administrative manager saying that he, too, had not received his salary and that the owner—who is now in Singapore—had referred all inquiries about the factory to his attorney.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.