Garment Workers Break Through Police Barrier

About 4,000 workers from three garment factories marched to the Ministry of Social Affairs in Phnom Penh on Tuesday after breaking through a police barrier that was set up to stop them advancing up Monivong Boulevard in order to express their grievances over the presence of armed officers at their workplace.

The workers left two factories belonging to Hong Kong-owned SL Garment Processing company—which make clothes for U.S. brands Levi’s and Gap—and the Next Garment Factory in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey district early Tuesday morning, but were met with a police blockade.

“The police put up a barricade in order to prevent workers from going to march,” said Ouch Noeun, a representative from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union. “Then workers then broke through, but no one was injured.”

SL Garment workers have been protesting for several weeks outside the factories, occasionally blocking the busy Street 371 and calling for the removal of Okhna Meas Sotha, who was taken on as an adviser at the beginning of the month, be­cause of unpopular changes he has made and the introduction of military police officers as guards.

“We are raising three main points,” said 21-year-old worker Teng Dyna. “We want to get rid of Meas Sotha, we want a $3 lunch stipend [per day] and we want a minimum monthly salary of $150.”

He said the workers decided to march to the ministry “because people didn’t know about [the issues] and there was no solution.”

Chhoeun Saban, 26, said Mr. Sotha was very unpopular, particularly because he allegedly asked the company to fire 1,000 workers for protesting.

Workers Tuesday said there are at least 10 armed officers in plain clothes who now patrol inside the factories.

After the workers arrived at the ministry, several representatives met with officials, though no agreement was reached.

Prak Chanthoeun, secretary-general of the ministry’s demonstration and strike resolution committee, said officials would continue to try to resolve the dispute.

“It all depends on the workers and employer—we are trying to make them come closer to finding a solution that protects workers’ interests,” he said.

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