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Cambodian Workers Locked in Factory

February 25, 2000

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ Police said Friday that they rescued 51 immigrant workers who were locked in a garment factory and forced to work while their wages were withheld.

The Vietnamese and Chinese workers were freed from the G.T. Garment Co. last week after an anonymous tip on slave-like labor conditions, police said.

``They were prevented from leaving the factory, held against their will,″ said Lek Vannak, deputy chief of municipal police.

Factory manager Philip Chang reportedly called the situation a ``misunderstanding,″ denying that workers were locked inside the factory compound.

The rescue happened amid growing labor unrest in the garment sector, Cambodia’s fastest growing industry. Workers from four other factories marched on parliament Friday for the fourth consecutive day, complaining of unfair treatment and mass firings of union members.

The rescued workers told the local human rights group Licadho that they were lured to Cambodia several months ago with promises of eight-hour working days and salaries of $100 a month.

They were instead given the Cambodian minimum wage _ about $40 a month _ and told they could not leave the factory unless they paid $220 for immigration fees and transportation to their home countries, Licadho director Eva Galabru said.

Chang admitted to The Cambodia Daily newspaper that wages were withheld, saying $100 was kept from each worker as a deposit to cover food and transportation costs.

``I’m a very honest person,″ Chang said. ``If I make a mistake, I say I’m sorry.″

Cambodian labor unions say the country’s labor law is routinely flouted by garment factories.

The United States, the top importer of Cambodian-made garments, linked quotas to labor conditions in a trade agreement signed by the two countries last year.

The Cambodian government complained bitterly last month when U.S. trade officials did not award the maximum export bonuses allowed under the agreement.

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