Bid to pay workers fortnightly

Mom Kunthear / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Out of work factory workers protesting in Phnom Penh. KT/Mai Vireak

In a bid to cut the losses of garment factory workers whose bosses flee without paying them, the Labor Ministry is considering forcing employers to pay workers twice a month instead of the present once a month through amendments to the Labor Law.
 
The move comes in response to multiple protests and complaints by garment workers whose employers fled the country without paying their employees their final wages, bonuses and severance payments.
 
Many of the workers have sought help from the government in either tracking down the delinquent owners or forcing international conglomerates – who buy products supplied by these factories – to pay their wages.
 
However, the government has said there is little it can do to help workers in this situation despite requests for help to the labor or interior ministries, leaving many of the garment workers in dire financial circumstances.
 
Labor Minister Ith Samheng, at the ministry’s annual congress yesterday, said amendments to the Labor Law were necessary to address the problem of fleeing factory owners because many workers were being left with no compensation after their factories were abandoned.
 
Many workers are not even being paid the new minimum wage, he said.
 
He noted that the ministry will look to find other ways to ensure that factory owners cannot flee the country without properly notifying and compensating their employees first.
 
“In 2017, the Labor Ministry plans to enforce the implementation of the Labor Law and also amend some articles, especially about wage payments to workers,” he said.
 
“In the Labor Law, the workers’ wages have to be paid once every two weeks, or twice a month.
 
“So we need to ensure [that] this is followed because in the event that the employer runs away without paying the workers, they will not lose too much of their wages.
 
“We will also change sections that talk about benefits and seniority bonuses,” he added.
 
“We will amend some articles, but we cannot say yet which articles it will be, but we will not add more conditions.
 
“We will discuss with the employers so that we can solve it together.”
 
He said, however, that no decisions will be made before first discussing it with employers and garment workers.
 
“We have previously discussed it with them already about paying wages once every two weeks, but it was unsuccessful. But I will talk about this issue again.
 
“If so, then we can reduce the risk for workers when their factories close down or their employers run away without claiming any responsibility.
 
“What I am announcing now is just an idea, but we will conduct a trilateral discussion before making any decision.”
 
Cambodian Alliance Trade Unions president Yang Sophorn, however, did not welcome the proposed amendments, suggesting instead that the ministry should simply enforce the existing laws.
 
“The Labor Law, which we’ve been complying with, is already enough,” she said.
 
“There does not need to be any more amendments. But what the ministry has to do is strengthen the implementation of the law, especially for the employers.”
 
She added that the ministry often blames workers or unions whenever a problem arises without putting enough pressure on employers, who are often the source of the problem.
 
Factory owners fleeing the country without compensating their workers is a common occurrence in Cambodia, with at least half a dozen such cases last year involving hundreds of garment workers.
 
During his speech yesterday, Mr. Samheng criticized workers from the Chung Fai Knitwear factory – who have been protesting for more than seven months after the Chinese owner of their factory fled the country last year – for blocking National Road 2 on Tuesday during a demonstration.
 
He told the audience that blocking a public road was a crime and that the leader of the protest should be responsible and charged according to the Penal Code.
 
“I want to appeal to every worker that blocked the road,” he said.
 
“This is not the best choice for this case. I want them [workers from the Chung Fai factory] to point and show who is inciting them to block the road. The ministry will have them tell us who the leader is for doing this.”
 
William Conklin, the country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity which is providing legal assistance to the Chung Fai workers, agreed that protesters should not block roads and inconvenience traffic.
 
However, he said he wished the minister had appealed to the courts and other relevant authorities, including the Labor Ministry itself, to find a resolution for workers from the Chung Fai Knitwear factory.
 
Khorn Chiven, a representative of the former Chung Fai factory workers, told Khmer Times yesterday that they were not incited by anyone and decided to block the road despite the reservations of some members of the group.
 
Photos and videos posted to Facebook on Tuesday showed angry morning commuters shouting at the group, asking them to clear the road.
 
The fact that these reservations and complaints were ignored, Ms. Chiven said, should indicate how dire their circumstances are.
 
“Those workers who blocked the road told us that they can be responsible if something happens,” she said.
 
“We tried to stop them and explain to them not to block the road, because it is illegal to block public roads, but we could not stop their anger.”

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