Hundreds of garment factory workers clashed with police at a factory in Phnom Penh yesterday during the latest strike in what is now a month-long campaign to have two union leaders rehired.
The workers from Nex-T Apparel (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. in Dangkao district were striking in support of two union organizers from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU).
A scuffle broke out when they confronted a representative from a union affiliated with the Cambodian Union Federation (CFU) who was urging the protesters to return to work, said San Sopha, a CCAWDU conflict resolution officer.
“The union in our factory was trying to explain to workers that there was no point for them to strike,” said Chea Sambath, the manager at the Nex-T factory. “Then a female worker got mad and wanted to slap the speaker. The police tried to stop them, and a fight started.”
Mr. Sopha of CCAWDU said the police then started beating workers with batons, and some of the workers retaliated by throwing water and stones at the police.
Police yesterday denied they were trying to prevent workers aligned with the CCAWDU from protesting.
“The workers have the right to protest,” said Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovan. “But we also need to make sure they follow the rule of law and do not hurt other people or destroy other people’s property.”
Workers sympathetic to the CCAWDU have been striking on and off since the factory decided not to renew the union leaders’ contracts.
He Thearot was notified in October that his three-month contract would not be renewed and Or Chanty was fired in November after the two ignored a request by factory management that they not organize a CCAWDU-affiliated union within the factory.
On Friday, more than 100 workers from the Nex-T factory protested in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs demanding that Mr. Thearot and Mr. Chanty be rehired. But in a meeting held at the ministry between CCAWDU and factory officials, no agreement was reached.
“We’re asking the striking workers to wait for a solution while others can get back to work, but if they keep striking we will have to solve this based on the law,” said Ms. Sambath.
Mr. Sopha said that workers will strike again at the factory today.