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Workers at JC Penny Supplier Rally for Unpaid Benefits

Mom Kunthear / Khmer Times Share:
Protesters take a break during their demonstration against the factory where they used to work. Supplied

Following more than two weeks of protests in front of their shuttered factory in Por Senchey district, more than 500 workers from Win Shingtex (Cambodia) Co. Ltd tried to march yesterday to the Ministry of Labor, the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to seek help ensuring the Hong Kong-owned company respects Cambodian labor law and pays them wages and benefits due since it closed without notice on March 5.
The workers, who made pajamas for US retail giant JC Penny, said they were stopped by authorities before they even reached the headquarters of the ministry.
Workers say the company is legally obligated to pay wages, compensation and benefits.
Vann Makara, a representative of the workers, said local authorities prevented them from reaching their destination, but officials from the Labor Ministry did meet them to try to find a solution.
Seang Yoth, a labor dispute officer at the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said talks between workers and ministry officials were fruitless because the company did not send a representative to attend.
Mr. Makara said workers started protesting on March 5 after the factory’s most senior manager – who they identified as Liang Xiu Juna – issued an announcement that immediately terminated their contracts. It made no mention of bonuses owed or compensation legally owed to fired workers, including those on fixed-duration contracts, Mr. Makara said.
“They demanded their employer pay them compensation for dismissal, their final salaries, annual bonuses owed and other benefits,” he explained.  
He said workers were also demanding that they be reinstated if the company reopens its factory in another location. If it does so, it would not be the first time.
According to reports by Better Factories Cambodia, the company had previously operated a factory in Dangkor district under the name Shingtex.
Mr. Yoth said a representative of the Labor Ministry will summon company officials to talks today. He said yesterday’s talks between the workers, local officials and ministry representatives were intentionally dragged on to prevent the workers from resuming their march.
“We spent more than three hours in negotiations that were useless,” he said. “I think this was the purpose of officials who did not want the workers to continue marching,” Mr. Yoth added.
Workers will march again today if they are not paid what they are legally entitled to receive, he added.
Company officials could not be reached for comment and phone numbers listed for it on various websites were no longer working yesterday.
Vong Sovann, the deputy secretary general of Committees for the Settlement of Strikes and Demonstrations at the Labor Ministry, said he would solve the dispute with the company through its lawyer today. He said the company’s owner was in Hong Kong but had instructed her lawyer to resolve the dispute.  
“We did not meet with the company lawyer this morning, so we will continue our talk again to tomorrow,” he said yesterday. “The factory terminated all contracts of workers, which is similar to the factory being shut, so the company has to pay compensation and benefits according to the Labor Law to its workers,” Mr. Sovann said.
Mr. Sovann said his committee would try to resolve the case before it went to court. He added that officials would try to find a solution for the workers “as soon as possible” and that the solution would be “acceptable to all sides.”  
JC Penney says in its code of ethics that it is “committed to following all applicable minimum wage, overtime wage, child labor and other wage and hour laws and regulations” and that “we require our suppliers to comply with those laws as well.”
“As residents and citizens of the countries in which we operate, it is our duty and responsibility to follow the laws of the land,” the code says. – Additional Reporting by Vincent MacIsaac

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