Winnipeg-based Nygard International has a responsibility to help pay severance to garment workers who abruptly lost their jobs when the factory they worked at in Cambodia was shut down last year, the union says.
Ryan Hayes, spokesperson for Workers United Canada Council, said Thursday that 208 Cambodian garment workers, mostly women, are owed a total of $550,000 US in severance and compensation after they were fired July 1, 2016, when the Chung Fai Knitwear factory was closed.
"We can't even say they were laid off … overnight the factory was closed," he said. "So far they haven't received any compensation that they were owed and many of these workers had been working for over 10 years."
According to worker testimonials, about 60 per cent of the clothing produced at the Chung Fai was clothing for Nygard, including the brand's Bianca line, while the remaining 40 per cent was for the United Kingdom's Marks and Spencer and Bonmarché.
A spokesperson for Nygard International said the company has looked into the matter and rejected all of Hayes's claims.
"Nygard International has had no direct connection or any legal contract with Chung Fai," she said. "We've had nothing to do with Chung Fai. Ever."
According to data from ImportGenius provided by Hayes, Nygard maintains a relationship with Addchance, the parent company of Chung Fai. Data also shows the company cosigned for 29 shipments of clothing from Chung Fai Knitwear, starting in April 2013 through April 2016.
Hayes said that it's possible an unauthorized subcontract was drawn up.
Still, Hayes said, he finds it "utterly confusing" the Winnipeg company has refused to acknowledge the connection.
"Nygard should be taking responsibility for their supply chain," he said. "We would just like to have a meeting with them to talk about what a remedy could look like."
Hayes said both Marks and Spencer and Bonmarché have been open to having a conversation, with Bonmarché agreeing to meet.
The 208 workers who lost their jobs have faced severe hardships over the past year, Hayes said, including putting off medical treatments and taking out loans.
When local efforts failed, including occupying the factory for a time, the workers began reaching out to international groups including Workers United.
Many of them are older and have been unable to find new jobs, Hayes said, because hiring in the garment industry tends to favour younger workers.
The union represented Nygard employees in Winnipeg until 2008 when the company shifted to overseas manufacturing.
Rules set out in a Nygard compliance policy require all the company's suppliers to "operate in compliance with all applicable laws, rules and regulations, including but not limited, to those laws relating to labour standards, worker health and safety, and the environment."