Labor Minister Slams Road Block, Warns of Color Revolution

The ringleaders of a garment workers’ protest that blocked a main highway should be found and brought to justice, the Labor Minister said on Wednesday while warning of the perils of a “color revolution.”

On Tuesday morning, workers from the Chinese-owned Chung Fai Knitwear factory, who are seeking compensation after the factory went bankrupt last year, blocked National Road 2 for almost an hour to push authorities to intervene on their behalf.

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Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng addresses government, factory and union representatives during a meeting of the Labor Advisory Committee in Phnom Penh in 2015. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Instead, Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng called for the organizers of the protest to face legal action.

“It’s illegal to block the road. Please find them,” Mr. Sam Heng told officials on Wednesday during the Labor Ministry’s annual meeting in Phnom Penh.

“If you can’t find them today, please keep trying to find them to take action according to the law,” he said.

“We can’t allow a color revolution to be held in Cambodia at any expense,” he added, echoing warnings regularly churned out by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Over 200 workers at Chung Fai, a sweater and sock manufacturer, turned up to find the factory shuttered in July. They have been protesting to be compensated money they claim to be owed, some as much as $3,000.

Last week, the workers gathered outside the Phnom Penh office of major U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S)—which they say they were making clothes for—in the hope it would help their cause.

The company, however, has denied that its clothes were ever made at the factory, despite the workers producing photographs of M&S apparel they say were taken inside the workshop.

On Wednesday, the protesters brushed off the minister’s threat.

“We know that blocking the road is wrong, but the workers needed to do it because we wanted the public, reporters and the government to know about our difficulties,” said worker Khan Chiven.

Another protester, Pom Sophos, said the group had rejected $40,000 in compensation offered by the factory’s landowner. The landowner wants to use the factory site for another business and is keen to end the protests, according to Dy Roth Khemarun, deputy Meanchey district governor.

“Our workers did not agree with this compensation because it’s not enough for us. We will keep protesting until we find success,” Ms. Sophos said.

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