Rubber plantation workers protest

28 September 2010

ABOUT 2,000 rubber plantation workers in Mondulkiri province’s Pechreada district protested yesterday against a Franco-Cambodian firm, accusing it of failing to pay them agreed-upon day wages.

Seoun Sentra, 16, who joined the protest in Bousraa commune, said villagers were promised between 15,000 and 20,000 riels (US$3.57-$4.76) for a day of work clearing land for rubber trees, but that many workers had received only around 15,000 riels.

“One day the company ordered me to clear 2 hectares of trees or bamboo for planting rubber trees, and I got only 15,000 riels because I am a new worker,” she said.

She added that although the work day normally started at 7am, the company’s trucks arrived to take villagers to work at 4am.

“If we do not get on their truck on time, they note down that we are absent,” she said, and added that the workers’ weekly wages had dropped from 75,000-100,000 riels per week to between 30,000 and 40,000 as a result.

The protesters maintained their vigil outside the company’s office in Bousraa village, in Bousraa commune, for most of yesterday, but said no employees had arrived to respond to their concerns.

Labourer Chea Thol, 40, said workers had made three requests to the company: to provide workers their full daily wages, respect agreed working hours and return workers home after they finish their shifts.

“We will not stop protesting if a company [representative] does not walk out to find a solution for the workers,” he said.

The rubber company, Socfin KCD, a joint venture between French rubber giant Socfin and the Khaou Chuly Group, was granted its first 2,500-hectare rubber concession in late 2007 and began clearing in early 2008. Residents have long opposed the project, saying that more than 800 families in seven villages in Bousraa commune – many of them from the Phnong ethnic minority – have been displaced by the plantation, now expected to cover a total of 10,000 hectares.

The dispute came to a head in December 2008, when a frustrated group of villagers destroyed machinery belonging to Khaou Chuly Group. Many of the Phnong communities have since been employed to clear land and plant rubber trees in the area.

Philippe Monnin, general manager of Socfin KCD, said in April 2009 that Phnong workers would be employed on the plantation at a wage of 20,000 riels per day.

Khaou Phallaboth, president of Khaou Chuly Group, described the workers’ pay complaints as a “small issue”, and said they were merely trying to increase their wages.

“The workers cannot force the company to increase their salary whenever they want. If they are not happy to work with us, they can stop and let other workers work instead of them,” he said.

Provincial governor Nha Raing Chan and Men Piseth, deputy governor of Pechreada district, could not be reached yesterday.

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