Striking Factory Workers Thwart Police Arrests

Police in Kompong Chhnang province on Thursday were prevented from arresting workers and union officials outside a Samakki Meanchey district garment factory by a mob of irate protesters who pulled two of their colleagues out of a police car to thwart their arrests.

About 3,000 employees of the Chinese-owned Jiun Ye Garment factory have been on strike since Monday over management’s failure to include their monthly bonuses on their last paychecks. The factory has blamed unspecified technical problems and asked for the workers’ understanding while they fixed the mistake, but the workers insist the factory is trying to cheat them.

A meeting between union and factory representatives at the factory on Wednesday failed to settle the dispute. Instead, the union was shown an injunction from the provincial court ordering the workers to stop their roadblocks of National Road 5 and go back to work.

The workers, led by the Khmer Union Federation of Workers Spirit, ignored the order and resumed their strike outside the factory Thursday morning, at which point police arrived and started making arrests.

Union president Mum Siek said that at about 9 a.m. police apprehended Am Vuthy, a factory union representative, and another union member whose name he could not recall and placed them in a police car. But several of the protesters surrounded the car, he said, and used rocks to smash the vehicle’s windows and free the pair.

Mr. Siek said a team of about 200 police officers then tried to push their way through the crowd of strikers to attempt to make more arrests but were blocked.

“The police did not show any arrest warrants to our union representatives,” he said. “If they had had warrants, they would not have fled.”

Mr. Siek said about 1,000 of the workers then marched into nearby Kompong Speu province in order to leave the jurisdiction of the police, along the way protecting the union officials and members the police were after.

Since May, police have arrested at least 10 union leaders—all since released—for allegedly inciting illegal protests during strikes.

Kong Chanmony, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said he witnessed Thursday’s events and corroborated Mr. Siek’s account.

“We say about 200 district and provincial police came to break up the strike and look for union officials and then follow the marchers, who protected the union officials,” he said.

Nget Rasmey, Jiun Ye’s human resources director, said the factory filed the complaint that led to the court injunction against Mr. Vuthy and more than 10 other union officials and members.

“We filed a complaint against them for incitement and property damage because they incited the workers to join the strike and damage company property,” he said.

Mr. Rasmey said the workers had smashed the windows of a guard post outside the factory and toppled the front gate.

District police chief Duong Hong confirmed that police went to the factory to break up the strike.

“Our forces went there to prevent the workers from starting an illegal demonstration because the workers have damaged factory property,” he said.

Mr. Hong also said two men were briefly detained but declined to elaborate.

Mr. Siek, the union president, said the workers’ protest would continue today.

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