A months-long battle to secure back pay waged by 750 garment workers has ended only days before the national election — with the government footing the bill.
The $450,000 payout to the Pine Great (Cambodia) factory workers, whose factory owner skipped town in April, is being financed through a loan from the national budget, with payment to be made today.
Workers previously expressed concern that they would be unable to pay transportation costs so they could cast ballots if they did not receive their pay by Friday. They further vowed to protest in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs on Election Day if the wages remained unpaid.
Upon hearing the news, the out-of-pocket employees “laughed and thanked Prime Minister Hun Sen for helping them receive their wages after spending more than three months demanding” them, Keo Sokhom, a worker representative, said yesterday.
Touch Somuth, a member of a Ministry of Social Affairs committee formed to handle the dispute, said that because Pine Great’s Chinese owner had fled the country, the committee had decided to try to distribute pay to all workers at the Meanchey district factory today.
Those who could not make it, he added, could pick up their money at the Ministry of Social Affairs.
While in favour of the decision to pay the workers money rightfully owed to them, Moen Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center, questioned the timing of the payments.
“We see political manipulation more than commitment to the sole issue,” Tola said yesterday.
Rather than paying money out of the public budget, the government should set up a system where companies deposited a certain amount of money to avoid complications like those seen at Pine Great if a company became insolvent, Tola said.
Regardless of the government’s motive behind the payments or how they were going about making them, Sokhom said the action secured the Pine Great workers’ votes.
“We will go to vote, and we will vote for Cambodian People’s Party, because they always help the workers,” Sokhom said.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Economy and Finance paid out $6.5 million to more than 7,000 workers at Yung Wah, a Gap supplier, who were owed compensation.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN