Police briefly detained 13 garment factory workers on Thursday after about 20,000 workers, some throwing rocks, continued a strike that began Monday in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet City over wages and working conditions, a union official and police said.
Union leaders had on Wednesday evening agreed to call off the strike of workers from 36 factories at two special economic zones (SEZ) in the border province. However, when the workers returned to their jobs Thursday morning, they quickly went back on strike after they learned the details of the deal that had been worked out, said Chheng Chhoan, secretary-general of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.
“They were angry after I announced the agreement did not include a raise to the minimum wage,” Mr. Chhoan said,
The striking workers had hoped for an immediate increase of their monthly wages to $154. Their union representatives, however, had agreed to wait for the results of a national-level meeting on the issue of the minimum wage, which is scheduled for next week in Phnom Penh.
Although most of the 20,000 striking workers, from the Manhattan and Tai Seng Bavet SEZs, were present at Thursday’s strike, a large number of them were simply trying to get back to work, provincial labor department deputy chief Ou Sokhoeun said.
“Most of the workers wanted to come to work, but a small number prevented them because they wanted them to join the protest…. We were worried as they were throwing rocks into the factory buildings,” he said.
Bavet City Deputy Police Chief Kao Horn said that police arrested 13 of the striking workers after they were identified by factory owners as having led the rock throwing.
“We received the 13 offenders but they were released at 1 p.m. after we educated them,” Mr. Horn said.
Ly Hong Shin, the chairman of the Tai Seng Bavet SEZ, confirmed that the striking workers had thrown rocks at the windows of two factory buildings inside his SEZ.
“This was completely illegal…. The factories in Tai Seng are completely closed because we were worried the violence could even be worse than this,” he said, once again suggesting again that the strikes could see investors flee the country.
“We invest to make money, but if these investments are useless, what are we doing this for?” he asked.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he was pleased the workers who had thrown rocks were detained.
“It’s a step in the right direction. For the first time ever, the police have actually detained the demonstrators,” Mr. Loo said.
Despite the detentions, however, Seng Yeak Mey, 22, a worker who participated in Thursday’s action, said daily strikes would continue until the minimum wage was increased to $154.
“We will continue to protest until we receive a suitable solution,” she said.