Factory Workers Protest After New Union Leader Fired

3 min read
Protesters outside the New Mingda garment factory in Phnom Penh on November 2, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)

Hundreds of workers protested around a Veng Sreng Blvd. factory after their employer fired an employee who was central to forming a new local union branch for the company.

Workers protested outside the New Mingda garment factory in Choam Chao I’s Toul Pongro village on Wednesday to demand the company rehire a coworker who was fired and restore full salaries to workers who had hours suspended and pay cut, said Bun Sophy, a worker who participated in the protest.

Sophy said he was the president of the union, but did not wish to name the union yet. He said about 10 workers had been planning the new union branch for more than two months. After workers announced the union, New Mingda fired one of the union leaders, Sophy said. “The company discriminated against the union and fired our union leaders and there are protests from workers,” he said.

Workers had an ongoing dispute with the company over suspended hours and salaries, Sophy said, noting that workers were also frustrated with the company’s attempts to cut their hours, salaries and end-of-year bonuses.

Horn Sokkha, a worker and a protest participant, said her coworker was terminated without doing anything wrong and without explanation from the company.

“We are protesting because the factory fired my union representative, it discriminated against the union,” she said. “That’s why we stage the protest to demand the factory to accept him back to work without discrimination, without resentment against workers.” Sokkha added that there were protesters both inside and outside the factory compound and estimated that they numbered nearly 1,000.

The factory could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The Labor Ministry’s deputy chief of dispute intervention Ou Ratana classified this case as a “personal dispute” between workers and the company, saying the ministry already intervened in the conflict earlier. 

New Mingda workers had previously protested in August after the company announced intentions to fire five employees who were representatives for the new union, and workers returned to work after the company backed away from those plans.

“We have already resolved it. The workers agreed to return to work,” he said. “The termination of the union [member] is something that we will continue to resolve at the Ministry of Labor, because it is a personal dispute, not a joint dispute.”

Prum Bunthorn, president of the Cambodian Livelihood Development Association, said that factory owners commonly make attempts to stop workers from forming unions, and the Labor Ministry should hold companies accountable for union-busting behavior.

“So I think the Ministry of Labor should implement strict and effective legal measures in the case of employers who fired union representatives, because this is discrimination and violation of the law, and we do not want this to happen,” he said.

New Mingda is directed by Dong Aikang, a Chinese national, according to the Commerce Ministry’s business registry, and had manufactured clothes for the U.S. brand Lands End in 2021, according to trade data portal Panjiva.

Protesters outside the New Mingda garment factory in Phnom Penh on November 2, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)
Protesters outside the New Mingda garment factory in Phnom Penh on November 2, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)

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