About 200 garment factory workers gathered across the street from the National Assembly Wednesday to mark May Day and demand the government improve labor conditions.
Meanwhile, more protesters pelted the headquarters of a labor union organization and the headquarters of the Sam Rainsy Party with eggs in a pro-government counter-demonstration.
At the rally next to the National Assembly, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and parliamentarian Son Chhay shouted encouragement from the back of a truck.
“The workers should be paid $70 per month, and they should work only 40 hours a week,” Sam Rainsy said. He added that workers should get the same holidays as government officials because they are “just as good.”
The current minimum wage for garment factory workers in Cambodia is $45 and the official work week is 48 hours.
Despite the municipality’s denial of a march permit, the workers walked to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, where they put up posters demanding an end to discrimination against unionized workers. From there they walked to the municipal court, which they derided for its alleged corruption. The protest was organized by the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union.
Another crowd, calling itself “Parent of the Worker,” visited the Free Trade Union’s headquarters, the Sam Rainsy Party headquarters and Sam Rainsy’s house on Wednesday. As police followed close behind, more than 200 youths—riding in a dozen trucks—threw bad eggs, rotten fruit and rocks at the gates of each of the three buildings.
Banners flew over the trucks accusing Sam Rainsy and Chea Vichea, the Free Trade Union’s president, of burning down factories and causing unemployment. A man shouted over a bullhorn, “Sam Rainsy is a second Pol Pot!”
Three people on the trucks said they had been promised $3 each to get aboard and protest against the Free Trade Union and its allies. One man said he sided with Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Phourg Motry, the Free Trade Union’s press director, said the counter demonstrators were government stooges, not workers. “I’m not angry with them. I’m angry with [those] who put them up to this,” he said.
In a letter issued Wednesday, Hun Sen said workers should be thankful on May Day.
“If there are any complaints, workers should take them through the court system so as not to provoke violent acts such as arson,” he wrote.
Chea Vichea disagreed, saying, “They are always ignored. When the worker asks to have a case investigated, the court always asks for money. Then the court always decides in favor of the factory because the factory can pay the court more money.”