About 200 workers from Kompong Speu province’s Agile Sweater factory traveled to Phnom Penh on Thursday to submit petitions to the government calling for the release of five union officials who were arrested following a violent inter-union brawl on Tuesday.
The workers submitted their petitions to the Interior Ministry and Council of Ministers after failing in the morning to convince local authorities to release the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) officials, said provincial governor Ou Sam An.
Mr. Sam An said about 400 workers showed up at the provincial government headquarters at 7 a.m. to continue protesting over the arrests, with some being called inside to discuss the issue.
“We called the unionists and the workers for a meeting based on the dispute inside the factory, but they just declared that if we did not release the five unionists, they wouldn’t talk,” he said.
Yet the governor said he was only prepared to facilitate talks over the workers’ demands for better conditions at the factory, not the arrests of those involved in the clash.
“Releasing them or not is not our responsibility. They committed crimes, so they should ask the court or the prosecutor. If they continue demanding their release, we will never call them for any meetings or negotiations again,” he said.
Half of the workers then decided to take their cause to Phnom Penh, explained CUMW president Pav Sina, arriving in the city at about 1 p.m. before heading to the Council of Ministers, where a police officer received their petition.
The workers then marched to the Interior Ministry—at one point trying to turn off Sisowath Quay toward Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house before being redirected away by government security guards—where another officer accepted their petition.
In addition to seeking the unionists’ release, the petition accuses Sok Ravuth, the leader of a rival, factory-aligned union, of instigating Tuesday’s violence.
“We hope the government will think about us and release [the unionists] and take action against Sok Ravuth, who led a gang to beat our officials,” Mr. Sina said.
“It was Sok Ravuth who started the violence…so he should be punished under the law. We want the minister to see how the Kompong Speu police work. They just arrest anybody without trying to find out the truth.”