Two separate labor disputes in Kompong Chhnang town and on the outskirts of Phnom Penh erupted in clashes between garment factory workers and police on Wednesday.
According to an official with the local human rights group Licadho, about 3,000 workers at the International Garment Im Ve company in Kompong Chhnang have been on strike since Monday over several demands for improved working conditions.
Police and workers blamed each other for the violence that erupted Wednesday.
Kompong Chhnang Provincial Police Chief Touch Naruth said he deployed more than 100 policemen to block workers from marching in what he called an illegal demonstration.
“Demonstrators did not listen to us, and they threw rocks at police and caused more than 10 police officials minor injuries,” he said.
“If we talk about the judicial system, I have the legal right to crack down on demonstrators with violence, but we did not use violence against the workers,” Touch Naruth said.
Morm Nhim, president of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia, said otherwise:
“Military police shot into the air four times to intimidate and break up the demonstrators and used their feet to kick us, too. I could not figure out how many demonstrators were injured, but [I estimate] about 200.”
Police also hosed down workers from two fire trucks, and then beat, handcuffed and detained Morm Nhim and three other workers for about an hour, she said.
Touch Naruth, however, said police made no arrests. “I only called a meeting with Ms Morm Nhim, the union president, and asked her to stop holding the demonstration,” he said.
Morm Nhim said the demonstration began after officials from the Ministry of Social Affairs failed to show up as scheduled to attempt to broker a resolution to the strike. Talks with factory management are to resume this morning, Morm Nhim said.
Oum Mean, director of the ministry’s labor department, declined to comment.
Officials at both factories declined to give contact information for the factory owners.
In Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, outside of Phnom Penh, about 400 workers from the Yein You Ing garment factory tried to make their way to the capital to protest their working conditions.
Free Trade Union president Chea Mony said the workers hired four trucks for the trip, but more than 20 Kantok commune police officers prevented them from boarding the vehicles. Instead, the workers walked down National Route 4 toward the capital.
The strikers met several barricades of district and provincial police, but pressed on until they encountered a force of about 150 that included Phnom Penh municipal police, Chea Mony said.
“Police used electric batons, guns and shields to crack down on our peaceful march,” Chea Mony said.
He said one worker was knocked unconscious with the shock from an electric baton, while another was beaten with the butt of a gun.
Factory union representative Lach Sambo confirmed taking a gun butt to the face.
Kandal Province Deputy Police Chief Tom Vey denied his men used violence against the marchers. He said he heard the violence occurred near Phnom Penh International Airport.
“Therefore those demonstrators were cracked down on and beat up by Phnom Penh police, not my Kandal police,” he said.
Phnom Penh Deputy police Chief Reach Sokhom said Wednesday afternoon he was not familiar with the incident.