The governor of Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district ordered several hundred protesting Sam Han garment factory workers to go home Monday morning and said the factory now belongs to the government.
“Workers must stop protesting and should file lawsuits to court against the factory owner,” Governor Khlaing Huot told the former workers. “I prohibit all of you from marching to the National Assembly because we are resolving this matter in stages.”
The former workers had planned to march to the Assembly but canceled the plan in the face of a heavy military police presence and a smaller than expected turnout of workers.
Khlaing Huot told the workers if they did march, police would use violent means to stop them.
“Your march is illegal so a violent crackdown will be enforced against all of you,” he said. “If all of you do not listen and follow me, I will stop caring for you.”
He said the government has launched a lawsuit against the Korean company that owned Sam Han and he encouraged the workers to do the same.
He added that after discussions with Social Affairs Minister Ith Sam Heng, it was decided a committee would be established to assess the factory’s worth.
Thousands of former workers were paid two months’ salary after the government lent the factory $390,000, factory manager Choi Ji Ho said last week. The government also lent the factory $870,000 in October to keep it afloat, he said.
But workers say they are still owed yearly bonuses, overtime pay and piece-rate wages.
“We are jobless now,” said a 21-year-old worker. “We will protest until we get a resolution.”
In the face of mounting police presence, one 26-year-old worker explained the decision to cancel the march.
“We get no support from outside the factory,” she said. “We are scared of police.”
Calls to Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union and Cambodian Union Federation leaders, who were not at the factory Monday, were unsuccessful.