Striking Garment Workers Foil Leaders’ Arrests

Garment workers at the South Korean-owned Cambo Handsome Ltd. factory in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district managed to foil the arrest of two union leaders Thursday, workers and officials said.

District security guards were allegedly ordered by district governor Hem Darith to apprehend Mao Vannak, vicepresident of the Workers Friendship Union Federation, and union officer Yi Yet after the pair called for a strike, but garment workers managed to prevent the arrests by surrounding the union leaders.

“The district governor ordered about 10 security guards to arrest me and my officer, but workers immediately stood around the guards and grabbed us away from them,” Mr. Vannak said.

“I think the authorities are trying to intimidate the freedom of unions, because we just expressed our opinion to demand better working conditions for workers, which have been violated by the company,” he added.

Mr. Vannak said about 2,000 workers in the Choam Chao commune factory left their stations due to a dispute over contracts and severance pay. Workers are also seeking a $20 bonus and the removal of representatives of the Khmer Union Federation, which they say is not serving their interests.

Mr. Darith, the district governor, said the security guards were not attempting to arrest the union officials, but only wanted to call them to a meeting.

“We did not arrest them, we just called them to come to the district office to stop them from distributing leaflets related to the 21 defendants, which, according to the law, is a way of inciting other workers who are working inside the factory,” Mr. Darith said, referring to a group of unionists and workers who have been on trial for their roles in violent garment strikes in January.

Mr. Vannak denied handing out such leaflets, but said workers would continue their strike today until a resolution is agreed upon.

Worker Seng Soksreymom, 25, said she has worked at the factory, which produces knitted goods and jackets, for five years.

“We want the company to provide severance payments and remove the union leaders, because the Khmer Union Federation does not serve workers’ interests and has threatened workers with imprisonment if they take part in strikes,” she said.

Khmer Union Federation officials and Kim Woo-jung, the factory’s general manager, could not be reached for comment.

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