Three garment factory union bosses were released from court custody Monday afternoon after factory workers said they were tricked into signing a statement accusing the leaders of intimidating them.
Hundreds of workers at the Splendid Chance garment factory demonstrated outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court Monday in support of the union leaders, who were released soon thereafter.
“This was only the factory’s excuse to arrest me,” said Ly Bunsao, secretary-general of the union, after his release. “I never beat or threatened anyone.”
A worker who asked to be called Nieng said a factory manager asked her to thumbprint a document but didn’t let her read it. “I thought it was a salary increase letter or something,” she said.
Worker Moung Sokha said she refused to sign. “I refused because the factory owner didn’t allow me to read or see the note,” she said.
Union leaders Kim Yong, Sorn Mean and Ly Bunsao had rejected two previous invitations by police to come in for questioning, fearing imminent arrest. The invitations only said the men were to be called in for a “personal inquest.”
They were questioned separately Monday morning, then arrested and sent to court, said Kao Poeun of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers. “I think this is intimidation of union leaders,” he said.
Municipal Judicial Police Chief Heng Peo said Monday morning that more than 30 workers complained that the men beat workers to convince them to participate in strikes.
Splendid Chance Chief of Administration Kim Sokun said the factory was not aware of the complaints to police. She said the union “forced” workers to demonstrate before the court Monday.
She said the document signed by the workers was a contract that must be agreed to after the end of their three months’ probation.
Several workers at the demonstration defended the three men, who became the factory union’s first elected leaders in September.
“These men help dismissed workers get back to work again,” worker Noun Savuth said.
(Additional reporting by Richard Sine)