Fearing Arrests, Garment Workers Form Human Shield

Over 1,000 Kandal province garment workers on Monday formed a ring around a handful of their fellow workers to prevent their arrest over a continuing strike sparked by the dismissal of 10 employees, po­lice and union officials said.

Police officials said they were not seeking to arrest anyone but to es­cort workers to court for questioning, as the River Rich garment factory had lodged a complaint accusing them of instigating a strike that began Friday.

The four-hour standoff began Monday morning when 150 riot police approached the workers at the Sa’ang district factory, according to Ek Sopheakdei, secretary-general of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union.

Monday’s standoff followed Friday’s confrontation at the factory, in which police allegedly fired smoke grenades to disperse de­mon­strating workers, union and rights officials said.

Ek Sopheakdei said the crowd barricaded him and 10 other workers inside a private home on Mon­day at about 8 am near the factory in Sitbou commune.

Representatives for the River Rich factory could not be contacted Monday.

Ouch Leng, a monitor with local rights group Adhoc who was present during the incident, said police had been armed with smoke gre­nades but that violence had not occurred.

The ongoing labor dispute be­gan in November when a group of employees were allegedly fired for attempting to form a union, according to union officials.

Kandal Provincial Court Director Huot Vuthy said the court had is­sued a summons to question three or four of the workers regarding the River Rich complaint, but de­clined to elaborate on the case.

Deputy provincial police chief Sao Sothun said police were not attempting to arrest the workers.

“We just wanted to invite them for questioning about the illegal strikes,” he said, adding that the people sought, whose names he could not recall, had hid behind their colleagues. “If there were arrest warrants, they could not have escaped,” he added.

 

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