A union leader heading a strike at Terratex Knitting and Garment Factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district was beaten by three unknown assailants Wednesday morning.
Free Trade Union of the Kingdom of Cambodia leader, Pol Pheak, said he left his house around 6:30 am and was walking to work when three people pulled up beside him on a motorbike.
One of the men, he said, got off the bike and hit him in the head with a metal chain with a large lock attached to the end before driving off. He was taken to hospital and required seven stitches, he said.
Chun Socheath, senior investigator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, confirmed the attack on Wednesday.
“I do not want to accuse the factory, but the timing of the attack is very coincidental,” Pol Pheak said. “I think they wanted to kill me because a few [union] leaders have been killed in the past.”
On June 13, 2003, a worker and a police officer were killed during strike riots at the Terratex factory. On Jan 22, 2004, FTU leader Chea Vichea was gunned down in broad daylight in Chamkar Mon district.
Pol Pheak said the attack would not stop the Terratex strike. “We will continue to hold the strike if the factory continues to cut the workers’ money,” he said.
The strike involving about 500 workers began after the factory reduced the price it would pay workers for the shirts they made. Prior to Dec 20, Pol Pheak said workers received $7.30 for every 12 shirts produced. That amount has been reduced to $4.50, he said.
On Dec 21, the factory agreed to reinstate the initial pay rate, but the strike continued after the workers learned they stand to lose a $5 bonus they would have gotten for being at work everyday because they went on strike without permission.
The factory’s assistant director, Srey Mom, denied Terratex was responsible for the attack. “Outside the factory, we are not responsible,” she said. “The attack may have been because of his own personal problems.”
She said the factory had filed its own complaint to the Chak Angre Krom commune police on behalf of Pol Pheak.
Srey Mom said lowering the rates for shirts was a result of changing the type of shirt produced and negotiations between the union and factory are common whenever there is a change.
Chak Angre Krom commune Chief Chea Sokaiy confirmed that he had received complaints from the factory and Pol Pheak about the attack and that police were investigating.