Armed with electric batons and firing rounds from automatic rifles into the air, more than 60 intervention police officers dispersed about 600 former Sam Han garment factory workers, who returned again to protest in front of the factory in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district Thursday morning, despite days of police crackdowns, police and union leaders said.
“We started firing in the air after those workers threw rocks at police who tried to explain to them to stop protesting because it is an illegal assembly,” commune police Chief Khat Darasy said. He added that police did not want to use force, but the protesters tried to hold a violent demonstration.
Factory union organizer Arn Nath said Thursday that protesters did not throw rocks at police until police started using electric batons to beat them.
“Police are the [ones] that used guns to shoot over workers heads to break us up,” he said, adding that six former workers were slightly injured.
One ex-factory worker, Tim Khon Soriya, 25, was arrested and charged with inciting workers to throw rocks, Khat Darasy said.
“Before I ordered my police officials to crackdown, I always got orders from my boss,” he said. District police Chief Ly Lay could not be reached for comment.
Khat Darasy said that any gathering is illegal if it has not received permission from Phnom Penh Municipality. But to date, the Municipality has never granted permission for a worker protest, union leaders said.
Workers have filed a complaint to local human rights group Adhoc over the repeated violent crackdowns by police on their protests, Adhoc spokesperson Chan Soveth said Thursday.
“Police have done many violations against workers,” Chan Soveth added.
While many of Sam Han’s 10,000 workers were paid two months minimum wage last week through a $390,000 loan from the government to the factory, workers are demanding indemnity payments specified in the Labor Law, which factories must pay workers, according to seniority, upon closing.