March Blocked as Factory Protest Continues

More than 500 workers from the Ocean Garment Factory were blocked from marching to the Labor Ministry on Thursday as they continued to protest the company’s offer of a $15 salary for this month, after it suspended operations from May 26 to June 26 due to a lack of orders.

At 8:30 a.m. the workers began their march down Russian Boulevard from the factory in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district but were stopped by authorities gathered outside the district office.

The squad of about 25 military police and security guards herded the marchers and prevented them from going beyond the district office. Officials instead invited representatives inside for a meeting, which lasted until noon.

“We didn’t allow them to march to the Ministry of Labor because we were afraid that their march would have a negative impact upon the public by causing traffic jams,” district governor Khim Sun Soda said.

“They asked for permission to march to the Ministry of Labor tomorrow, but we didn’t give them permission for this but representatives of the workers and their union have been invited back for a meeting with officials from the ministry,” he said.

The workers, who have been protesting on and off for the past 20 days, initially demanded to be paid half their usual salary during the factory’s closure but last week hardened their stance, petitioning Prime Minister Hun Sen to force factory owners into fully remunerating them for the enforced downtime.

Chhe Sinon, a representative from the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said the workers promised to carry through their march to the ministry unless concrete action is taken today.

“Tomorrow, if representatives from the Ministry of Labor do not contact the factory, then our workers and the union will march to the Ministry of Labor,” he said.

One of the protestors, 35-year-old Phoeng Pheak, said the Labor Ministry did not appear to be listening to their concerns, adding that she did not understand why a peaceful march was blocked.

“We have been nonviolent, so why are they preventing us?” she said. “If they do not not help us, tomorrow we will march to the Ministry of Labor.”

Kim Sreng, 26, said that the workers would not simply give up their protest.

“We have a union to lead us. If we stay at the factory, we will get nothing.”

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