Factory Workers Demand Release of Eight Held After Protest

About 1,000 garment workers on Wednesday demonstrated outside Kompong Speu Provincial Court calling for the release of eight people arrested during a protest this week over wages at a factory supplying U.S. brand Nike, a union official said.

Workers gathered at the factory at 7 a.m and traveled in vans to Chbar Mon City, where they protested outside the court calling for the eight union representatives and workers to be released, said Free Trade Union (FTU) spokesman Pich Ponreay. “The workers want to show that the eight representatives did not cause violence or damage to property, and demand their release,” he said, adding that the protest continued peacefully through the afternoon.

Eight union representatives and workers were taken into custody after weeks-long protests calling for wage increases at the Taiwanese-owned Sabrina (Cambodia) Gar­ment MFG Corp. factory in Samraong Tong district turned violent Monday, with workers breaking down a factory gate and clashing with rival union members and police.

FTU lawyer Kuch Ratha said Wednesday that the eight people—whose whereabouts and specific crimes had previously been unclear—had been taken to court Monday to be charged with intentionally initiating violence and property damage.

They were then taken to the National Police Commissariat in Phnom Penh for questioning, before being returned on Tuesday to the Kompong Speu provincial prison, where they remain, he said. “Tomorrow, I will ask the court for the eight people to be bailed,” Mr. Ratha said.

Provincial court Judge Chhim Ritthy confirmed that the eight workers are members of the FTU. “We have enough evidence to prove their crime as the company’s buildings and vehicles are damaged,” he said.

Sabrina said in a statement yesterday that it would not accept threats being made against its workers.

“Sabrina is the plaintiff in the case. Sabrina feels strongly that property damage, violence and threats to our workers’ safety cannot be ignored,” the statement said.

Fighting between workers on Mon­day displayed a rift between the FTU—which has been leading the strike for three weeks—and rival union the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), of which the majority of the factory’s about 5,000 workers are members.

On Tuesday, FTU president Chea Mony held a press conference in Phnom Penh accusing CCAWDU of starting Monday’s violence. CCAWDU president Ath Thorn has an­nounced a press conference this morn­ing to respond.

CCAWDU vice president Kong Athit denied an earlier report that a CCAWDU official was among those arrested, and responded that it was FTU officials who started the violence.

“I can’t believe it. [Mr. Mony] is trying to fake all this information,” Mr. Athit said, adding that since Monday more and more workers had returned to work, with 3,800 showing up at Sabrina on Wednesday.

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