Ten Arrested After Clash at Shoe Factory

Nearly two months of mounting tensions between workers and management at a Taiwanese-owned shoe factory in Kompong Cham province came to a head on Saturday as employees clashed with police, resulting in the arrest of 10 people and dozens of injuries, authorities said Sunday.

The dispute began on September 1, when more than 5,000 workers at the Juhui Footwear factory in Choeung Prey district went on strike demanding bonus pay and other benefits.

Police stand outside the Juhui Footwear factory in Kompong Cham province on Saturday following a clash between workers, riot police and company security guards. (Mai Vathana)
Police stand outside the Juhui Footwear factory in Kompong Cham province on Saturday following a clash between workers, riot police and company security guards. (Mai Vathana)

The workers protested intermittently until September 16, when the factory fired all of them for ignoring a court injunction ordering them to cease demonstrations and return to work.

The factory rehired about 3,000 of the workers later last month, but refused to rehire 2,000 of their colleagues, who claim they were black-listed because of their affiliation with the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), which led the strikes.

The factory offered the sacked unionists severance packages, which they rejected on the grounds that they had not given up their jobs.

At about 7 a.m. Saturday, some 1,000 workers gathered to demand their jobs back.

As the demonstration got underway, Juhui’s administrative director, Teng Sambath, appeared at the factory’s entrance, where he posted a list of workers who had been selected to work there. The list, however, consisted of only 72 names—all new hires—enraging the protesters.

“The workers became angrier and angrier when [Mr. Sambath] posted the list of more than 70 new workers but not our names,” Hel Soklin, a 23-year old worker who joined the protest, said Sunday.

Ms. Soklin said a scuffle broke out when riot police attempted to confiscate a microphone and loudspeakers from the workers.

According to Cheang Yot, a CCAWDU representative at the factory, about 100 riot police and an equal number of Juhui security guards pushed the workers back from the building.

Both sides soon began hurling rocks, Mr. Yot said, and police hit workers with their batons, injuring 25, none seriously.

District police chief Heng Vuthy admitted that police used their batons against the workers, but only, he said, after the workers smashed the windows of a security booth, destroyed the factory’s front gate and used slingshots to fire rocks at the officers.

“Our forces were just protecting the company’s property,” he said. “We did not take sides.”

Mr. Vuthy said police arrested 10 workers after finding a baton, a samurai-style sword and slingshots at the scene, which he said was evidence of incitement. The workers are also accused of causing violence and damaging company property, he added.

Ten security guards and nine police officers were injured in the clash, according to Mr. Vuthy, including one who was seriously wounded when he took a rock to the left eye.

The violence came to an abrupt halt at about 10 a.m. when a police officer fired his gun into the air twice, said Khon Khoy, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho. The workers fled to a nearby farm and onto a highway, he said, causing a 30-minute traffic jam.

Deputy provincial police chief Choem Senghung said Sunday that all 10 protesters were still being questioned at the provincial police headquarters and would be sent to provincial court today.

Contacted by telephone, Mr. Sambath, the Juhui administrative director, defended his decision to post the names of new workers outside the factory.

“If those old workers want to work at the factory again, they need to reapply as new workers,” he said.

Saturday’s clash came less than three weeks after roughly 2,000 workers forced their way into the factory and began throwing rocks at managers—injuring at least two in the head—before security forces intervened.

On October 12, five CCAWDU representatives were summoned to appear at the Kompong Cham Provincial Court over the attack, but on Wednesday, the unionists submitted a letter asking to delay the questioning until they retain a lawyer.

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