Police broke up two labor demonstrations Tuesday morning using electric cattle prods, physical force and by shooting automatic weapons into the air, witnesses said.
At least six workers were punched and kicked in two separate incidents at Tack Fat and Thai Wha garment factories in Phnom Penh, said Mom Neam, president of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia and organizer of the demonstrations. Two labor monitors said they were grabbed during the scuffle and their cameras were confiscated.
But Deputy District Chief Em Sok Leang, who was at the demonstration at Tack Fat, said police did not do anything other than try to grab protesters’ signs. He said some of the protesters may have been “touched” during the exchange.
The protests were part of a scheduled three-day demonstration to put pressure on four garment factories to cease the alleged unfair treatment of employees and to protest the dismissal by some factories of union members, organizers said Tuesday afternoon. The other two factories targeted were Cambodia Apparel Industry and Belgium.
The protests come at a time when the US is closely monitoring Cambodia’s garment industry as part of an agreement that ties labor conditions to export quotas.
“We are protesting to stop the discrimination of union members by all factories,” said Mom Neam. “We also want salaries that guarantee good living conditions for the worker.”
But a high-ranking official at the Labor Ministry said Tuesday night that the demonstration, which included protesters marching to the National Assembly, was “not legal.”
All the disputes were resolved already, he said, but the workers “just want to disturb stability.”
If union members keep illegally protesting, he said, “how can the factories prosper?”
Sometimes factories do treat their employees well, added a management employee of Belgium garment factory and a member of the negotiating team, who identified himself as Vuthy.
Other factory officials couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Union officials and employees said some 50 police wielding rifles converged on 250 demonstrators at Tack Fat and 1,000 factory workers nearby.
Several were injured in the exchange, several witnesses interviewed later said, as police punched, kicked and prodded protesters.
Seng Ith and Sok Mady, who both work for the Cambodia Labor Organization, a labor advocacy and advisory group, also said they were roughed up. They were photographing and filming the protest, but police forcibly confiscated their cameras, film and videotape, the two said late Tuesday evening.
At Thai Wha, police took copies of the Constitution held by protesters and threw them into the sewers, said Kau Poeun, a 25-year-old protester. “The police rule the government,” he said, “and the government never supports the worker.”