Thousands of employees at Grand Twins International, Cambodia’s only publicly listed garment factory, will be back at the assembly line today after nearly two weeks on strike, accepting a court order to return to work.
Workers will follow the order the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued Monday to return, Grand Twins staff representative Kao Vannet said yesterday, but will continue trying to get the benefits they demand.
The strike is the first Grand Twins International has experienced since its establishment in 1997, Grand Twins chief strategy officer David Liu said during an interview at the factory yesterday.
“They are requesting crazy benefits,” Liu said yesterday. “All benefits we give are better than what the law requires.”
About 4,000 of Grand Twins’ approximately 5,300 workers walked off the job on the afternoon of October 20 – just over four months after the factory became the second company listed on the Cambodian Securities Exchange. At the time, factory management stated their confidence that labour unrest, which plagues Cambodia’s garment sector, would not be an issue for them.
Included in Grand Twins workers’ demands are 5,000 riel ($1.25) per day for lunch (3,000 riel more than is currently provided) and $15 per month for travel and accommodation ($8 more than the current sum), according to an email Liu wrote on October 21 to Adidas, the factory's main buyer.
Grand Twins pays workers more than the law requires, Liu added.
But Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center, said employees he met on Friday said the factory changed its name in 2006, putting employees on new contracts and ending seniority benefits for many.
“If you’re creating this legal fiction that because you changed the name of your factory, contracts are [void], you’re violating the Labour Law,” Welsh said. He also said workers told him they were on fixed-duration contracts for years longer than the two years allowed under the Labour Law.
However, Liu maintained no seniority benefits were lost when Grand Twins changed its name from QMI Industrial in 2006. Employees all work on annually renewed contracts, but this does not violate the Labour Law, he added.
The recent demands were brought to Grand Twins by the Cambodian Worker Support Union (CWSU), which is not registered with the company, Liu said.
CWSU agreed to negotiate through the Ministry of Labour on October 22, but representatives failed to show up to the meeting, Liu said.
Arguing that the strike is legal, CWSU president Nuon Ny yesterday said his union became involved in the strike when Grand Twins workers reached out to him. Ny added that his union sent a letter to negotiate with factory officials – without Labour Ministry oversight – but did not receive a reply.
“I decided to help workers, because reading their demands, I see that 85 per cent of their points are legal,” Ny said. “[Grand Twins] is well-known internationally, but they never respect the Labour Law; this is what caused the strike.”
Since the strike began, Grand Twins stock value has dipped from 8,480 riel ($2.12) on October 21 to 8,000 riel ($2) yesterday.
Aside from the fact that Grand Twins cannot afford to pay for workers’ demands, Liu said, their stature puts them in a position as a model for other factories whose actions would have far-reaching consequences.
“If we accept any of these conditions, the other factories would have to,” Liu said. “It would be a disaster; this is why we took legal action.”