Police Make Arrest, File Complaints in Bavet Strike

Police in Svay Rieng province on Tuesday arrested a garment worker for allegedly breaking a car window during a strike that turned violent in Bavet City the day before, and have filed complaints to the provincial court against two union representatives accused of defamation.

The arrest and legal action come amid a government-ordered shutdown of all Bavet City factories—scheduled to end today—meant to quell the strike and prevent it from spreading across the country.

Workers began the strike at a few factories after the Khmer New Year holidays earlier this month when they heard that another factory had recently given their employees a one-time $50 bonus for not striking in prior months and decided to demand the same deal. The strike gradually spread to most of the city’s 30-plus factories and peaked on Monday—the day before the government-ordered shutdown—with some workers throwing rocks at factory buildings and breaking several windows.

Bavet governor Seng Seila said city police arrested one of the strikers on Tuesday.

“We arrested one worker because he broke a car window and tried to steal property inside the car,” a Lexus SUV belonging to a manager at one of the factories, he said. “We already passed the offender on to the provincial police.”

Provincial minor crimes police chief Sous Sarin said the man was still being questioned. Both he and Mr. Seila said they could not remember his name.

Contacted through other workers, Chet Chanda said the arrested man was her son, 21-year-old Chan Sarith.

She said her son had cut his right arm while joining in the strike and that about 10 police officers arrived at their home Tuesday afternoon to take him away.

Two local union representatives, Puth Vichet and Chea Oddom, were also be to questioned by city police Wednesday for calling a factory administrator a “female dog” during the strikes.

But Mr. Seila said the questioning was canceled for fear that workers would come to protest at police headquarters, as about 2,000 had done when the pair was originally to be questioned on Monday.

“We are now making a report to send this case to the court soon because we are unable to solve this problem because they use hundreds of workers to force our authorities to solve the problem for them,” he said.

Since last week the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents all of the country’s 500-plus exporting garment and footwear factories, has been urging the government to do more to stop the strikes from turning violent and growing.

GMAC officials repeated the call at a press conference in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, calling on police to detain those using violence, and insisted that the factories would not be paying workers their wages for the duration of the strike or the government-ordered shutdown.

They also repeated their claim that labor leader Pav Sina and his union, the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, was behind the strike.

“Several months ago he had made the claim that the only union that can conduct a strike at the Bavet region would be his union,” said GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo. “This was a claim that he made, and now that there is obvious trouble and he’s trying to distance himself.”

Mr. Sina again denied sparking, stoking or leading the strike.

“We cannot accept authorities blaming my union officials for inciting the workers to strike because it is not my union; the workers do it themselves,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)


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