Two union representatives said that they were detained and “educated” Thursday for distributing leaflets calling on workers to participate in a nationwide strike next month.
Yin Saroeun, secretary-general of the National Trade Unions Coalition, said police detained him and his colleague, Chuob Noek, at about 11 a.m. after they distributed strike leaflets outside the Evergreen garment factory in Russei Keo district. They were taken to the Russei Keo commune police station and were only released after they had thumbprinted declarations swearing that they would not hand out any more leaflets.
“We were threatened by them that if we did not follow their orders, they would take our belongings,” Mr. Saroeun said, adding that he and Mr. Noek were held for about an hour.
“They had no right to arrest us since there is no law that states that distributing leaflets is illegal—we just distributed the leaflets to inform and make workers understand our demands,” he added.
Far Saly, the union’s president, said that the leafleting would continue despite the authorities’ intervention.
“They held our staff like robbers and searched their bags and questioned them without a warrant…. We…will distribute there again,” Mr. Saly said.
Russei Keo commune police chief Sun Kannareth said the detention was justified, because the pair risked disturbing public order.
“The distribution of leaflets would damage public order and they should ask permission from the authorities before they distribute the leaflets…. We just implemented the law,” he said.
Unions are calling on workers to take part in strikes starting on March 12. Their demands include the release of 21 protesters arrested in January and the prosecution of police who killed five strikers during suppression of garment worker protests last month.
They are also demanding a $160 monthly minimum wage for garment workers.
On Thursday, 17 unions and associations co-signed a letter that was sent to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, the Ministry of Labor, the Council of Ministers, the International Labor Organization, City Hall and buyers informing them about the planned strike on March 12 and their intention to hold a public forum on the minimum wage on March 8.
“Employers get a lot of profit from this sector…. Therefore, we would like to inform you about our strike in order to push the government and employers to solve our seven demands,” the letter says.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed receipt of the letter and said it would be sent to Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong for consideration.