Five unionists were arrested in Kompong Speu province on Tuesday and provisionally charged with a trio of crimes after traveling to Chbar Mon City to support workers striking over conditions at a Hong Kong-owned garment factory, local officials and a union leader said.
The union officials, from the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), clashed violently with representatives of a factory-aligned union outside the Agile Sweater factory just after 7 a.m. on Tuesday after urging some 100 employees to ignore a court injunction ordering them to end the strike, which began on December 25, according to deputy provincial police chief Sam Sak.
“We caught them red-handed committing violence, destroying private property, inciting the group to commit crimes, and they tore the injunction off the wall, which shows that they don’t respect the court of law,” Mr. Sak said.
“The workers were just protesting against the factory, but these people came to create anarchy.”
Mr. Sak named the arrested men as CUMW’s vice president, Khat Lot, and four other officials from the union’s head office in Phnom Penh: Cham Samnang, Prum Bunthoeun, Mao Moy and An Thona. He said they were sent to the Kompong Speu Provincial Court and provisionally charged with intentional violence, inciting people to commit crimes and disrespecting a court order before being sent to prison to await trial.
Keo Sothea, a prosecutor at the court, confirmed that he charged the men but refused to answer further questions about the case. Other court officials could not be reached.
The striking workers are calling for the removal of a factory administrator, fixed-term contracts, a $10 increase to their monthly transportation allowance, a $0.50 lunch allowance and extra pay for holidays and overtime.
CUMW president Pav Sina called a press conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to denounce the arrests and Sok Ravuth, head of the factory-aligned Trade Union Workers Federation of Progress Democracy at the Agile Sweater factory and an adviser to the plant’s management.
Contacted later by telephone, Mr. Sina said his union officials had been protesting peacefully alongside about 800 workers at the factory when they were attacked by a group of thugs, with five of the workers suffering head injuries in the attack.
“Our officials were gathering with workers and they shouted at us, saying we were preventing them from going back to work, and then they kicked and punched our officials,” he said.
“We know that Mr. Sok Ravuth led this gang to assault us, so why do the police accuse us of violence?”
Mr. Sina said he would call for a nationwide strike by CUMW members if his officials were not released this week.
Mr. Ravuth, who claims to represent 90 percent of the factory’s staff of 900, denied any involvement in the violence.
“We just called for the workers to return to work. We did not call for violence. We are all friends,” he said.
The Agile Sweater factory made news in October when two of its workers were arrested and charged over their attempts to set up an alternate, independent union inside the factory. At the time, Mr. Ravuth claimed that the workers wore masks while beating two of his unionists and forcing others to defect.
Hundreds of workers demonstrated against the arrests and the two were released from prison about three weeks later, after the factory and Mr. Ravuth withdrew their complaints in exchange for an agreement from the workers to return to their stations.