The Kompong Speu Provincial Court on Tuesday charged six union representatives with incitement over a protest near the Wing Star Shoes factory earlier that day, in a move unions say was unjustified and meant to intimidate.
Court prosecutor Keo Sothea said all six were charged with threatening to commit a crime and inciting a felony for allegedly encouraging the factory workers to block a road during their protest for back pay and more benefits.
“There were seven people but they have arrested six; another is at large,” he said.
The prosecutor did not name the men, who were arrested early Tuesday morning while setting up loudspeakers for the protest. The provincial and district police chiefs both declined to comment.
Sath Chheang Hour, president of the Cambodia National Confederation for Labor Protection, said all seven were officers in two partner unions. Four of the arrested men belonged to the Khmer Worker Power Federation Union, and two belonged to the Cambodia Solidarity Union Federation.
He identified the six men in custody as Pai Bora, Prom Bunthoeun, Noeun Khom, Sok Sok Huot, Lor Sopheak and Chan Veasna.
“It is injustice for them, because the workers blocked the road by themselves and our officials just went to show their support and tell them about their rights, but the authorities arrested them and put them behind bars,” Mr. Chheang Hour said.
“This is to threaten us and intimidate us from helping workers, and it makes us hesitant to give support,” he added.
Solidarity Union president Seang Rithy also condemned the arrests. He said he heard from workers that he was the seventh suspect police were searching for and that he was now in hiding.
“I’m concerned about my safety because I heard police are looking for me; now I can’t go home to see my family,” he said.
Chhan Sorn, an employee at Wing Star, said the protest ended Wednesday after the factory agreed to most of the workers’ demands. But she said they were now planning to protest at the provincial prison for the release of the union officers, as soon as they get their next pay slips on Saturday.
“Some workers want to go to the prison to demand that the authorities release them, but we have to get our month’s pay first,” she said.
The Garment Manufacturer’s Association in Cambodia has been strongly urging the government to begin arresting the union officials behind what they consider the wave of “illegal” strikes that have hit the country’s $5 billion garment exporting industry over the past several months. It has accused authorities of not doing enough to prevent those strikes.
Those unions say these latest arrests are out of line and clearly meant to scare them out of organizing legitimate strikes.
“The government is afraid and concerned about the wave of worker protests since they can’t stop it,” said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
“So they arrested them to threaten us and break the spirit of the other unions,” he said. “It will not be effective.”
“They arrest one to threaten 100 unions,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers. “This is a new measure by authorities and the courts to make unions not help workers by arresting their representatives and charging them with incitement.”
In a separate incident, Mr. Sina said eight of his own union representatives were in hiding in Takeo province following rumors that police were looking to arrest them in connection to a strike at the I-Cheng shoe factory Wednesday.
The factory manager, Ny Mei Qing, confirmed that there was a strike but declined further comment.
© 2014, All rights reserved.