Police wielding electric batons and AK-47 rifles arrested five workers and forcibly dispersed about 200 others who protested at the AIA Garment Factory in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district on Tuesday, workers and police said.
Separately on Tuesday, workers at the Long Heang factory in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district protested the apparent departure of the factory’s Chinese owner, while employees of a third garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district returned to work after walking off the job late last week.
Yun Rithy, president of the Khmer Youth Federation of Trade Unions, which represents workers at AIA, said police beat and kicked at least one protester and arrested five others after they took to the streets, demanding that the factory reinstate two of their fellow workers who had been fired.
“They used violence on us. We didn’t even touch the property of the factory,” said worker Prum Chan Nary, 23. “They beat us like Pol Pot possessed their bodies.”
Workers said they had been striking for four days.
Contact information for AIA Garment Factory’s management was not listed, and the factory was shuttered on Tuesday.
Leading the police operation, Heng Vanthana, Tuol Kok judicial police deputy chief, said: “I must organize [such a crackdown] because I need to keep…order.”
Khiev Savouth, the Ministry of Labor’s dispute resolution chief, said Tuesday that the 400-worker factory refuses to rehire the two fired workers. Police today will release the five workers who were arrested, he said.
Garment Manufacturers Association Secretary-General Ken Loo said he had heard AIA workers had blocked the factory dispute from being taken to the Arbitration Council—a claim the union denied.
“The unions are getting out of control,” Loo added.
Since the end of garment quotas on Jan 1, 11 Cambodian factories have closed and 25 have suspended operations while 15 new factories have opened, Loo said.
About 11,000 people have been put out of work, and 17,000 have been suspended. 4,000 to 5,000 new jobs have been created. Loo added that AIA is not a member of GMAC because it, like some 30 to 50 other small factories, is a sub-contractor and does not directly export garments.
At the Long Heang factory in Kandal, workers protested after the factory’s Chinese owner apparently fled and closed the factory’s doors without paying workers, Cambodian Union Federation President Chuon Mom Thul said. He said that 330 workers have not been paid for February or March.
“All the workers gathered in front of the factory but no representative from the factory arrived to solve the issues,” he said.
Separately, he said, 710 workers of Russei Keo district’s Sun Shiny factory returned to work Tuesday after striking since late last week over unpaid January and February salaries.
On Monday afternoon, the factory paid one month of salaries using privately loaned money, Chuon Mom Thol said, adding that Sun Shiny has promised to pay February’s salaries in April.
Phone calls to the factory’s manager were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Russei Keo district police Chief Ly Lay declined to comment on the Sun Shiny protest, which his police dispersed Monday.
(Addi-tional reporting by Erik Wasson)