Traffic police in Svay Rieng province briefly detained three striking workers from a Japanese watch factory Thursday after preventing them from traveling to Phnom Penh to lodge a petition with the Japanese Embassy.
About 200 workers from the Japanese-owned Nissey watch factory in the Bavet Special Economic Zone have been on strike since mid-April for extra benefits, including a $5 monthly bonus for female workers with children and an end to alleged forced overtime.
Led by the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), nine of them planned to take their case to the Japanese Embassy on Thursday but were stopped by police at about 6 a.m., said Tuon Saren, one of the workers.
“We planned to submit a petition to the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh,” he said. “But we were really disappointed because the police stopped our van.”
According to Mr. Saren, police said the driver did not have a license and then arrested three of them—the driver, his assistant, and a union official named Sok Khemera—effectively putting an end to the trip.
“Police arrested three people and sent them to the provincial police station for questioning,” he said. “The police said we didn’t have enough documents, but I don’t understand why they stopped our van and didn’t care about others.”
Chea Odom, CUMW’s provincial coordinator, said the workers were released at midday after he led about 600 union members to protest outside the traffic police office.
He acknowledged that the driver and his assistant had both forgotten their licenses, but claimed that police had only used that as a pretext to obstruct their journey.
“The police had an intention to stop us, because they had put up barricades since 1 a.m. to stop our car,” he said.
Sar Chantha, a Bavet City police officer, confirmed the van had been stopped but said he was unsure why.
“However, the traffic police said they didn’t have enough documents,” Mr. Chantha added.
“I only know that they were sent to the provincial traffic police station,” he said.
Ouch Saran, the provincial traffic police chief, and Koeng Khorn, the provincial police chief, both declined to comment on the arrests.
CUMW President Pav Sina said he believed the arrests were made to stop the petitioning.
“It was the bad intention of the authorities to break the workers’ spirit and their union activity,” he said. “It was also a serious violation of the workers’ rights; they were just demanding benefits, but they were mistreated.”
Mr. Sina said they would try to deliver their petition to the embassy again soon.