At least three workers were arrested Tuesday morning outside the Wing Star Shoes factory in Kompong Speu province, where the Free Trade Union (FTU) has been leading a strike calling for benefits and back pay, according to police and a union representative.
An FTU representative said that police arrested three workers, while a local police official said that six workers were arrested.
“The provincial police have arrested six people for questioning. It is concerning the protest,” said Kim Sophannara, chief of police in Kong Pisei district, where the Wing Star factory is located.
“They were arrested for inciting a protest,” he added, declining to comment further.
Keo Pisey, Kompong Speu provincial police chief, declined to comment.
Bin Sreymom, the head of the FTU at Wing Star, said three workers had been taken away by police at about 6 a.m. and their whereabouts remained unknown to the union.
“Three workers were arrested, probably because yesterday [Monday] they all blocked the road,” she said.
Ms. Sreymom said that the three workers, who were members of the Union of Khmer Worker’s Power, had joined the FTU in solidarity. Although workers at Wing Star had been on strike since April 26, she said that Monday was the first day that workers blocked National Road 3 next to the factory.
“The police probably blamed them for causing the blocking of the road, but all of the workers wanted a solution so decided to do it together,” she said.
A worker at Wing Star, who only gave her name as Da for fear of losing her job, said that police hauled away three would-be protesters, as other workers who had gathered early in the morning fled the scene.
“The worker representatives tried to come to the factory early to set up the loudspeakers for the protest but the police prevented them and then handcuffed them and put them in the truck,” she said.
Pen Hong, 30, said she was on her way to work at a nearby factory when she heard a ruckus.
“I saw two trucks with police, and they threw three people in the truck and others ran away. Police were saying ‘arrest these union people,’” she said.
Ms. Sreymom said that the arrests would likely add further fuel to a protest that was supposed to end after union representatives and Wing Star factory managers came to a tentative deal Tuesday to end the industrial action.
She said that the factory had agreed during a meeting to four demands, including a $5 monthly health bonus, a $0.50 daily meal allowance, and payment of salaries during the time workers have been on strike. But the factory representatives said they would follow through with the deal only if workers returned to their stations Wednesday.
“All the workers don’t want the money anymore. Now they want the release of the workers who have been arrested,” Ms. Sreymom said. “I don’t think the workers will return to work tomorrow.”
Representatives of the Wing Star factory could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)