Workers aligned with the Collective Union of Movement of Workers locked three officials from the Free Trade Union inside the Ocean Garment factory in Phnom Penh for eight hours Tuesday after the two unions argued over who would represent workers in a wage dispute.
Ocean’s approximately 1,000 workers have been protesting since late May after the factory suspended operations for a month due to low orders, offering to pay workers just $15 for the furlough period. The Collective Union has been representing workers in the dispute, which was referred to the Arbitration Council last month after the two sides failed to come to an agreement.
On Tuesday morning, however, six Free Trade Union officials visited workers in their homes near the factory grounds to offer them cash if they would sign documents ending their contract with the factory, according to Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union.
“They encouraged workers and told them that if they did not take the money before [the FTU officials] left, then all of them would get nothing,” he said.
Mr. Sina said the FTU’s visit to workers’ homes aroused the suspicions of the factory’s Collective Union members, who arrived at the scene and marched three FTU officials into the factory, holding them captive there until 5 p.m. Another three FTU officials fled in fear.
“Three officials are still being held in the factory by the Ocean workers, because the workers wanted to know who the money [on offer] belonged to,” Mr. Sina said Tuesday afternoon. “If the FTU does not have a union involved with the factory, they should stop interfering with the problem.”
Chea Mony, president of the FTU, said he had simply sent representatives to pay about 40 workers after they sought his help in negotiating the dispute.
“We are not conspiring with the factory, because I was begged by the workers who said they needed money,” he said.
“If the workers or factory did not ask me, I would not have helped represent the workers,” he added.
Mr. Mony’s assistant, Man Seng Hak, paid out a total of $1,200 to eight different workers before he was locked inside the factory, according to Collective Union official Houn Vanna.
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