About 700 garment workers at a Phnom Penh factory went on strike Monday, protesting unfair working conditions and the suspension of their union leader.
The strike follows similar actions by other disgruntled Cambodian workers, and comes just days before an organized International Labor Day demonstration, which leaders claim could draw as many as 5,000 protesters.
Monday’s strike was called to protest the dismissal of Eam Youlong, president of the union local at Luen Thai Garment Ltd, which produces Ralph Lauren designer clothing among other items.
Officials from the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia claim he was suspended in January after being falsely accused of owing victims $300 from a motorcycle accident. The current law forbids anyone with a criminal record from being a union leader.
“They are not happy with me when I help out Cambodian workers,” Eam Youlong said. “Since early 2000 after I helped workers protest, the garment factory owners were trying to dismiss me from my job in order to threaten Cambodian workers.”
Factory officials could not be reached for comment. Factory representatives told The Associated Press that the union representative was given leave with pay to deal with his legal problems and that the union was intimidating workers into striking.
Katja Hemmerich, a union spokeswoman, said Eam Youlong never saw a police letter claiming he was involved in a traffic accident.
“It is clear that the police and the management of Luen Thai are working together,” a union statement said.
Mom Vey, deputy police chief of Meanchey district, said the police had not forged a letter. He said Eam Youlong was involved in a “small traffic problem.”
Workers were notified Saturday Eam Youlong would not be rehired and organized the strike, according to union officials. They marched from the factory to the National Assembly, where they were met by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who led them to the US embassy.
An embassy official met briefly with workers. The workers then moved to the Ministry of Labor in hopes of negotiating a resolution.
Kai Boren, inspection official of the Labor Ministry, declined comment. Kai Boren has been one of the key negotiators of the Eam Youlong case, according to the union. Workers plan to continue negotiations today.
The 700 workers make up about 80 percent of the work force at Luen Thai Garment (Cambodia).