Police arrested another three union representatives on Friday for allegedly inciting garment workers to strike and protest in front of their factory over the past few weeks, this time in Kandal province.
It follows the arrest last week of six representatives of another union ahead of a protest at the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kompong Speu province, also for allegedly inciting a strike.
The increasing intolerance toward protests in the garment sector comes amid escalating complaints from factory owners that the government has not been doing enough to prevent and suppress a wave of “illegal” union activity.
Kandal provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun said the latest arrests followed a complaint from the Quint Major Industrial factory, where several hundred workers have been protesting since April 23 for the reinstatement of 25 recently terminated employees.
“There were about three union representatives…who were inciting workers to protest,” Mr. Chamroeun said.
“The union representatives did not listen to the solution from the council and kept burning car tires every day and causing trouble,” he said, referring to the Arbitration Council, which is meant to hand down binding decisions on industrial disputes.
“The workers who went to work were being threatened [by the strikers], which caused a fight, so it became a crime and the factory complained. We arrested them and sent them to court,” Mr. Chamroeun said, declining to answer further questions.
Provincial prosecutor Ouk Kimsith confirmed that the case had arrived at the court and referred additional questions to the case judge, whom he declined to identify before hanging up on a reporter.
Provincial prison director Chab Sineang said the three men—Mok Manh, Beav Mannorin, and Sok Vichara—arrived Friday.
Sok Ravuth, president of the Free Union Federation of Khmer Labor, said the three men—all representatives of his union—were arrested that same day at the Ministry of Interior, where they had been summoned for questioning over the strike.
He denounced their arrest and said the union would lead a protest march through Phnom Penh if they were not released soon.
“It is injustice for my representatives because they held a peaceful strike and protest and they did not use violence or destroy factory property,” he said.
“We will send a letter to the Ministry of Labor on Tuesday, and if there is no answer we will march to the ministry and the prime minister’s house to ask them to intervene and release our union representatives.”
Mr. Ravuth said his union sent the factory a letter four days before the strike with several complaints, including the recent dismissal of 25 workers he believes were let go for helping their colleagues take their complaints to management.
Once the strike started, he said, the provincial labor department organized two meetings to try to settle the dispute—both shunned by the factory—before referring the case to the Arbitration Council. When the provincial court then ordered the strikers to return to work by April 28, Mr. Ravuth said he encouraged them to obey to avoid more trouble.
“We told the workers to go back to work, but the workers did not listen because their demands were not solved,” he said.
Chhean Thavy, one of the strikers, confirmed that they burned tires on a few occasions and once briefly blocked off National Road 4 to press their demands. She said they were still deciding whether to continue to strike, protest or change their tactics.
The trio’s arrest came less than a week after police in Kompong Speu arrested six union representatives for helping factory workers there stage a strike for back pay and better benefits. A seventh union representative being sought by police in connection to the same strike is still at large.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which represents the country’s 500-plus exporting garment factories, has stepped up its call on the government to maintain law and order amid a series of garment factory strikes that have turned violent in recent months.
Union representatives behind some of the strikes have denounced the arrests and accuse the government of trying to scare them out of organizing legitimate union action.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)