Union Says Factory Prolonging Suspensions, Targeting Pro-Union Workers

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A garment worker at Zhen Tai in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district at the protest to return to work on February 6, 2023. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)
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Around 900 workers at a Phnom Penh factory said the owner won’t let them resume work after a two-month suspension and alleged most of the suspended workers support a pro-worker union.

Of the around 1,700 workers at Zhen Tai factory in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district, around 900 were affected by a factory-requested suspension because there was a drop in orders, said Kim Sophen, president of the Workers’ Spirit Union at the factory.

Sophen said workers were paid $30 a month for the two months and returned to work on Monday but were not allowed into the factory nor were they told if the suspension was extended. They protested outside the factory and demanded to return to work, suggesting a rotation policy with workers still working at the factory.

“If there is no order or work, the factory should allow workers who have been suspended for two months to resume their work and move those who are working to relax in order to help everyone survive,” he said.

Mech Seanghai, deputy president of the union, said she had worked at the factory for 11 years and alleged that most of the suspended workers were supportive of the union.

She said the curtailed pay given to suspended workers was making it hard to live.

“The cost of renting a room alone is between $40 and $100. And the cost of food is also increasing. Therefore, $30 is definitely hard for us to make a living. We also need money to spend on our children’s studies and to pay back our debt to the bank,” she said.

Sin Thy, the factory’s deputy director of administration, declined to comment and directed questions to head of administration Oun Sophea, who could not be reached.

Vong Sovann, the Labor Ministry’s deputy director for dispute resolution, said the ministry had yet to hear from the factory but it was his understanding that the factory would continue the suspensions.

“I looked at the suspension document, the factory said it will suspend work until February 6. So, we will wait and see. We contacted the factory but they have not responded yet,” he said.

According to Sophen, Zhen Tai previously threatened the union when it sought to protect workers’ benefits when the suspensions were first announced, suing three union representatives. An investigating judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a summons calling Sophen, Kum Vandeth, secretary of the union, and Seanghai, for questioning on December 19, 2022.

The summons accused the three union representatives of leading workers to protest and asked for $37,500 in damages.

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