Factory Owner Ran Away, Say Garment Workers

Workers at Canteran Apparel garment factory are demanding compensation, saying the owner closed it without notice and opened a new one.Photo from Facebook of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers

Staff demand compensation from new operation

PHNOM PENH – Workers at a Phnom Penh garment factory are demanding compensation, saying the owner closed it without notice and opened a new one.

The new factory claims it is not responsible for the compensation, which the workers have so far not calculated.

Chhem Sok Chan, a worker of Canteran Apparel, said that the factory owner, who is of Chinese origin from Malaysia, resigned on May 5 and went to open another factory called Quality Textiles.

The factory had already moved out a laser machine on April 6. She said Deputy District Governor Pang Lyda said at the time he would take further action if he could not resolve the situation“However, factory representative Kim Leav Bo and lawyer Ham Phea claimed that production is still in progress,” Sok Chan said.

Despite the claims, a generator and other valuable equipment were moved out of the factory while workers continued to sew the remaining clothes until May 7.

On May 16, workers from Canteran Apparel gathered in front of  Quality Textiles in Tropeang Thleng village in Por Senchey district to demand seniority pay and other benefits.

On May 20, Quality Textiles issued a statement that Canteran Apparel and Quality Textiles have no connection and that the owners are only friends.

“The demand of the workers of Canteran Apparel for the Quality Textiles to compensate is against the law,” the statement said. “Both companies have different shareholders and have separate company articles of association.”

It said Canteran Apparel’s former CEO Choong Wei Piau is not a shareholder in Quality Textiles. He is only an employee of both companies.

In 1995, Quality Textiles made Choong Wei Piau CEO while Canteran Apparel also asked him to help manage the company.

In 2019, Canteran Apparel encountered a serious financial crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic and did not pay Choong Wei Piau for two years.

Choong Wei Piau resigned from Canteran Apparel in January and was allowed to leave the company on May 3.

Canteran workers filed a petition on May 23 to the Labor Ministry seeking a solution and demanded that the company comply with the Labor Law.

Chhem Soklim, a garment assistant at the Canteran factory, said the workers' petition demanded that the employer be responsible and resolve the issue. Previously, the union and the workers' representatives had prepared documents to ask for a solution from district authorities to no avail, she said.

If the dispute remains unresolved, the workers will march to the Prime Minister’s house to ask him to intervene.

Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, pledged to try to solve the problem through discussion with the Labor Ministry and NGOs, both inside and outside the country.

Some workers have camped outside the factory to guard the equipment while they demand the employer be responsible for the matter, he said.

“The company used excuses and did not take responsibility for the workers’ interest while another newly opened factory is operating normally,” Sina said. “So, what the employees are demanding is for the company to provide legal compensation.”

About 60 percent of the materials and equipment have been taken out of the factory and all that remains is material with no value, he said. Sina’s team has been supporting Canteran factory workers according to their seniority, but he could not say how much each has received.

Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour could not be reached for comment. 

Canteran Apparel employed more than 300 workers. The factory had labor problems amid the COVID-19 outbreak, with the company saying lack of orders meant they could not pay wages.

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