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Cambodia: Garment factories fire 1000+ workers after mass strikes over seniority payment

In December 2018, workers of factories W&D (Cambodia) and Seduno Investment Cambo Fashion began a mass strike in and around Phnom Penh citing fears that their employers were planning on circumventing a new government directive to pay - and backpay - bonuses based on length of employment. 

In early January 2019, the companies - with the backing of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court -  issued an ultimatum to the workers saying that if they did not return to work within 48 hours, they would be fired. When the workers refused to return to work, approximately 1,200 workers were fired.

In January 2019, the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre invited buyers listed on W&D’s website - including Marks & Spencer, Columbia Sportswear, Blackhawk, Aramark, Blauer, Carharrt, Cintas, Body Glove, Rocky Boots, O’Neill, Academy, Scentlok and Cabela’s - to comment on the situation.

Columbia Sportswear said it has not sourced from W&D since 2015. Carhatt said it has begun an investigation and “firmly believes in the right for workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of reprisal or termination as outlined in our Code of Conduct.”

Marks & Spencer provided a full response, including an update that following mediation over 900 workers have been reinstated. The full company response is included below.

Further comments from Marks & Spencer and also H&M - who sources from Seduno Investment Cambo Fashion - are included in the article below. 

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All components of this story

30 January 2019

Cambodia: GMAC says W&D garment factory's firing of 1000+ workers is lawful

Author: Davin Sen, Khmer Times

"W&D followed law when firing workers: GMAC", 28 January 2019

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia ... issued a statement saying W&D Cambodia Co Ltd’s termination of striking workers was done in accordance with the law.

In a press release, GMAC said the company complied with the Labour Ministry’s Directive 443 when terminating them because the workers did not protest to demand better working conditions, but for the indemnity payments to be paid all at once instead of twice yearly as allowed by the law.

From December 24 until recently, 1,729 workers protested to demand seniority indemnity owed last year in a lump sum and that the amount should be the same as payments due to them for this year...

The statement noted that the Arbitration Council had ordered the W&D workers to go back to work, but they continued striking...

The statement said that 760 workers have returned to work and the company will maintain their seniority and attendance bonus in proportion to the number of days they have worked...

So Vanna, a worker, said up until now, some workers have returned to work while others have not...

“The workers who were fired have agreed to stop demanding the seniority indemnity in line with a recent statement by Prime Minister Hun Sen on worker protests,” Ms Vanna said. “They asked the company to accept them back, but the company did not accept some of them.”...

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said earlier this month that 90 percent of W&D workers returned to work and the demand by the protesting workers was illegal...

Read the full post here

Download the full document here

Company non-response
24 January 2019

W & D (Cambodia) did not respond

16 January 2019

Cambodia: Garment workers at W&D factory refuse to return to work with concerns over pressure despite govt. mediation efforts

Author: Long Kimmarita, The Phnom Penh Post

"W&D workers refuse to return to work", 16 January 2019

Over 1,000 garment workers from the W&D factory did not return to work on Monday despite government mediation attempts. They said they remained concerned over pressure from the factory management and their colleagues being fired…

Bun Samnal, who is among the fired garment workers, told … that he would not be able to return to work.

He said after several meetings … over the issue of seniority indemnity, a number of garment workers, including him, were blacklisted for allegedly inciting other workers to protest.

“They asked us to provide thumbprints, but then they said they will only take back young people. They did not rehire some senior male workers, pregnant women and older people."

“… the factory issued a list of nearly 100 workers who have been sacked. My name was included and I cannot accept it. They let other workers go back to work but did not take several of us back,” Samnal stressed…

W&D factory worker Sam Srey Mom said she did not agree to return to work because the factory had sacked several of her co-workers…

W&D factory administration head Meas Saret told … that 600 of the striking workers had returned to work, while 1,000 refused. He said it was the workers’ right whether to return or not, but …

Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training spokesman Heng Sour told … that the factory agreed to accept returning workers on Saturday. He said all workers had been rehired except 10, who were sacked due to evidence of incitement.

“The law will protect workers who abide by it, but people who have the intention of violating the law should worry."…

The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union president, Ath Thorn, said the workers did not return because they were worried that the factory might pressure them…

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia Deputy Secretary-General Kaing Monika told … that unions had misled workers, inciting them to protest using misinformation…

Read the full post here

11 January 2019

Cambodia: Warnings of unrest follow firing of garment workers after mass strike

Author: Matt Blomberg, Thomson Reuters Foundation

"Mass sackings send chill through Cambodian garment factories", 10 January 2019

The termination of about 1,200 staff from garment factories in Cambodia supplying brands including H&M and Marks & Spencer after a mass strike has sent a ripple of fear through the industry, experts said, warning of fresh unrest.

Thousands of workers from factories in and around Phnom Penh went on strike last week amid fears bosses were plotting to circumvent a new government edict to pay - and backpay - bonuses based on length of employment...

In a televised speech on Wednesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned workers across the country against striking, saying factories would shut down and leave them empty handed.

Muth Ron, a seamstress for more than ten years at a factory... said...[f]actory management... had begun trying to replace worker ID cards and have them sign new contracts - a strategy, workers believe, to wipe clear accrued benefits...

Taing Meng, a lawyer representing the factory, dismissed those claims and said all the terminated workers aside from about 50 who had incited the industrial action could return and would keep their accrued benefits.

A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer said the brand was in communication with factory bosses and would “cancel contracts and cease trade” with suppliers that breached their global sourcing principles.

A spokeswoman for H&M, which sources from a factory that has laid off more than 200 staff, said “around 100 workers have voluntarily left” and that H&M was monitoring the situation...

Read the full post here

Company response
11 January 2019

Carhartt's respone

Author: Carhartt

Thank you for your email regarding your concerns at the Well & David factory. We became aware of this issue earlier this week and have already started an investigation into the matter. Carhartt’s Social Compliance department has a mission to serve and protect the hardworking people that make our products. Carhartt firmly believes in the right for workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of reprisal or termination as outlined in our Code of Conduct.

Company response
11 January 2019

Marks & Spencer's response

Author: Marks & Spencer

... Our Regional Compliance Manager based in Cambodia was aware of an issue in one of our factories, W&D Cambodia and has been in regular contact and met with the factory owner of W&D to understand the situation and seek assurances...

... by Tuesday 8th Jan 2019, approximately 1,200 workers had still not returned to work and according to the Arbitration Council ruling were then considered as having abandoned their jobs by law. So, on Wednesday 9th January 2019, the factory legally dismissed the 1000 workers who did not return to work.

This is not the situation the factory wishes to be in and they have been very cooperative and fully engaged in mediation with all parties... we formally requested that the factory management again extend the deadline to return to work... and continue to accept any worker willing to come back, without retribution or retaliation.

... we have also suggested that the management make another announcement and clearer communicate the implementation, decision and date of the seniority payments (back and future) to all workers more broadly and widely. 

The factory agreed to these action points and as of today, Friday 11th January 2019, over 900 workers have returned to work. And we anticipate more workers returning to work over the coming days.

We will continue to monitor this situation and keep the factory under close review.

Marks & Spencer's full response is attached. 

Download the full document here

9 January 2019

Cambodia: W&D factory lawyer and representative claim legality of terminating 1,200 workers' contracts after ongoing strike

Author: Long Kimmarita, The Phnom Penh Post

"Factory lawyer: Sackings legal", 9 January 2019

While 1,200 sacked W&D garment factory workers protested in front of the factory …, a lawyer representing it said they will not be re-hired.

The factory fired the workers …, having previously issued an ultimatum – supported by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court – that striking workers return to their jobs within 48 hours or be terminated.

Factory representative and defence lawyer Taing Meng told … that the termination is legal because the workers had not followed the court’s order.

In addition, he said the factory does not plan to provide seniority indemnity and is only responsible for the workers’ final month’s salary…

Srey Neang, 30, who has worked in the factory for over five years, told …: “Without a solution, what will we do? The factory terminated us. The factory should pay us [everything they owe us]…

Ministry of Labour spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment ...

Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) president Pav Sina is disappointed that the company has decided to not re-employ the workers or pay proper compensation.

Sina said violation of workers’ rights is a serious issue, while private companies’ use of the court system to pressure workers is just as serious, and other factories may follow suit if the practice is not stopped…

W&D employs a total of 1,600 workers…

Read the full post here

Company response
9 January 2019

Columbia Sportswear's response

Author: Columbia Sportswear

Thank you for making us aware of this serious situation.  Please note that Columbia Sportswear Company does not produce products at W&D and has not done business with them since 2015. W&D’s use of the Columbia Sportswear logo on their website is in error and we will have it taken down.

7 January 2019

Cambodia: W&D garment company fires more than 1,000 workers who were on strike to demand unpaid benefits

Author: Mom Kunthear, Khmer Times

"Factory sacks striking garment workers," 07 January 2019

W&D factory..has fired more than 1,000 garment workers who were on strike to demand unpaid benefits.

...[T]he company, with the backing of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, issued an ultimatum to the workers saying that if they did not return to work within 48 hours, they would be fired.

The workers responded by occupying the factory and worker representatives said they would not back down until their demands were met.

...[T] company announced that workers who failed to comply with the order were fired.

“If your name is on the list, please take your wage on Tuesday at 3pm,” the company said.

...[A]bout 1,200 garment workers were fired...

“The factory issued a statement saying that they are to delete our names from the list of workers by Friday evening. We only saw the list on Saturday,” Mr Samnal said. “We were surprised to see our names on the list.”

He added that the company now has the obligation to pay the workers severance on top of missing benefits.

“We are not against the company for firing us, but it has to pay us as stipulated in the Labour Law,” Mr Samnal said. “These include severance, last month’s wage, compensation and seniority.”

Heng Sour, spokesman of the Labour Ministry...said the company gave the workers ample time and opportunity to return to work.

Read the full post here

2 January 2019

Cambodia: Garment factories order striking workers to return to work within 48 hours; workers defy an ultimatum

Author: Davin Sen, Khmer Times

"Striking workers given ultimatum", 3 January 2019

Garment workers on strike in Phnom Penh are defying an ultimatum made by some of their employers ordering them to return to work within 48 hours or lose their jobs.

Thousands of workers from Seduno Investment Cambo Fashion and W&D factory have been on strike ... They are demanding the companies pay their seniority indemnity and severance benefits.

According to the Labour Ministry, factories must pay workers a seniority payment every six months; factories must also pay severance upon conclusion of an employment contract...

The striking garment workers are now occupying their respective factory compounds in Dangkor and Meanchey districts.

Bun Samnang, a representative of W&D garment factory workers, ... said the ultimatum was delivered to his group during a meeting with his company.

“We were told to return to work within 48 hours,” Mr Samnang said. “If not, the company will terminate our contracts without compensation.”...

Meanwhile, workers from Seduno Investment Cambo Fashion in Dangkor district, are continuing their strike in order to demand for their benefits.

A worker ... said the company told them to return to work within 48 hours or be terminated, noting that only about 100 workers from her group have so far returned...

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour ... said that he agreed with the companies in issuing the 48-hour ultimatum.

Mr Sour said workers who do not return to work could lose their jobs...

Read the full post here