Union Reps Questioned Over Violent Protests

The Interior Ministry’s penal department on Monday questioned two representatives of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) over claims that they incited violence during protests at a Kandal province garment factory in late December.

Jack Liu, director-general of Tainan Enterprises (Cambodia) Co. Ltd., filed a complaint against six members of CATU after workers protested on December 26 and 31 at his factory in Ang Snuol district, demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $160.

In a letter dated Thursday, the Interior Ministry’s penal department chief In Bora called three of the accused, Khem Nath, Chhim Nimul and Nget Moniroath, for questioning Monday.

Mr. Nath, head of Tainan’s CATU branch, and CATU representative Ms. Moniroath appeared Monday but Mr. Nimul’s questioning was delayed until Wednesday due to illness.

“Police told me that the company accused me of cursing the factory owner and causing chaos and demanded $100,000 compensation,” Mr. Nath said.

Mr. Nath said he refused to pay the company because he had done nothing wrong, adding that police ordered him to thumbprint a report to confirm that he will return for a second round of questioning at a later date.

Ms. Moniroath also denied the allegations. “I wasn’t afraid of arrest during questioning because I did nothing wrong,” she said.

CATU president Yang Sophorn criticized the treatment of union members. “I think it is intimidating and breaking workers’ spirits who are going on strike to demand a [new minimum] wage,” she said.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), said that Monday’s questioning was just the beginning of an investigation into violence at garment factories that could see hundreds more complaints filed.

“At GMAC, we’re representing our members in bringing unions to court…. We will be bringing more soon,” he said, adding that he was already working on about 30 complaints.

“I have no problem with unions organizing a strike or a demonstration, but I do have a problem with the fact that they were breaking the law,” he said. “I don’t think [the unrest] was spontaneous,” he added.

Mr. Nimul will appear for questioning on Wednesday along with three other CATU representatives, Kol Kurn, Ouk Khen and Sem Kosal.

(Additional reporting by Alice Cuddy)

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