Police dragged former employees of the Capitol Tours bus company from a stationary tuk-tuk and confiscated the vehicle in Phnom Penh on Friday as the drivers continued their protests over what they claim was unlawful dismissal.
Five Capitol drivers were fired in July, leading dozens of their colleagues to strike and demonstrate in solidarity.
In November, 35 more drivers were sacked amid attempts by employees to unionize. Last month, the Arbitration Council ruled that just three of the 40 drivers deserve their jobs back.
On Friday, some 40 drivers returned for a third straight day of protests outside the company’s headquarters in Prampi Makara district, arriving at about 7 a.m. in the hope of persuading their former bosses to negotiate.
The company claims the drivers were fired for pocketing money from passengers, while the drivers maintain they were sacked over their attempts to unionize.
After three hours of speeches from unionists delivered through a loudspeaker attached to a tuk-tuk, some of the roughly 30 district police officers guarding the building descended on the vehicle and ripped the speaker down—acting on an injunction issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordering a stop to the protests.
A brief scuffle broke out as the drivers attempted to prevent police from seizing the tuk-tuk, pushing back at the officers as they were dragged away from the vehicle. After about two minutes, the police overpowered the protesters and wheeled the tuk-tuk away.
Oeun Samreth, a driver who was involved in the altercation, questioned claims by officers at the scene that the protesters were affecting public order.
“What is the police’s job? If they are going to move us, then they should find a solution. Why do they need to crack down on us and what is the [negative] impact to the public?” Mr. Samreth said.
“If I didn’t try to hold on to the loudspeaker, how would people or passengers on the street be able to hear about the problems of the Capitol company?” he added.
Ean Kim Horn, secretary-general of the Cambodia Transportation Workers Federation, who was present at the protest, said his union would submit a complaint to the court and that demonstrations would continue on Saturday.
“The police shouldn’t just come and move us and confiscate our equipment without negotiating. Soon we will submit a complaint to the municipal court,” Mr. Kim Horn said.
“We will not give up, despite the injunction, and we will call on unionists to join us to have a bigger protest at Capitol,” he said, adding that the injunction was invalid, as City Hall and the Labor Ministry had been informed about the protests 10 days in advance.
Khieu Van, a lawyer for Capitol Tours, said the injunction was requested because the protests were hurting the company.
“We requested that the court issue an injunction because the protests are causing the company to lose [money]—it’s even impacting people on the street,” Mr. Van said.
“[The protesters] say the company didn’t follow the Labor Law, but they cannot talk about following rules because they did not follow the rules of the company,” he said, adding the police had assured the company they would prevent further protests.
District police and officials could not be reached for comment.