A day after police employed tear gas and electric batons to break up their demonstration, hundreds of former Sam Han factory garment workers attempted to protest in front of the Russei Keo district factory on Wednesday, police and union leaders said.
More than 300 former workers turned out, compared with the 700 strong crowd Tuesday, but were blocked from reaching the factory gates in Tuol Sangke commune, union leaders said.
“Police used barricades to block the road,” factory union organizer Arn Nath said. “Our workers tried to protest despite police threats to start firing into the air.”
He said workers will gather near the factory each day until their demands are met.
“I do not know how many days the police will deploy to save the factory,” commune police Chief Khat Darasy said.
Some of Sam Han’s 10,000 workers were paid last week by a special government commission that lent Sam Han $390,000 to provide about two months of minimum wage. This loan was in addition to a $870,000 government loan made to keep the factory afloat in October. Many of the workers say they are still owed lump-sum compensation for the factory’s closing.
Chhorn Sokha, deputy director of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, called on the government to investigate whether Sam Han’s owner took funds with him when he left for South Korea two weeks ago. Workers filed a complaint to the court against the owner on Tuesday.
Arn Nath questioned the government’s rare loan to the company to pay off workers.
“It could be that the government or a high-ranking official are shareholders with the factory owner,” Arn Nath said, “which is why the government decided to release money for paying workers as they had never done before.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and the Ministry of Labor’s Chief of Labor Dispute Resolution Khiev Savouth denied Wednesday that the government was a shareholder in the now closed factory.
Khiev Savouth said the government helped Sam Han—and not the other approximately 20 factories which have closed recently— because “Sam Han has a large amount of workers, and when previous factories closed their doors, they had already paid their workers.”
He said the loan came out of the Ministry of Finance’s budget. Finance Minister Keat Chhon could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Erik Wasson)