Union Warns of Mass Demonstration if Protesters Are Not Freed

The head of the Free Trade Union (FTU) has threatened a huge protest and national strike if eight people arrested during a violent demonstration Monday are not released.

FTU President Chea Mony called a press conference at the union’s office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday to address the arrest of three union officials at the Taiwanese-owned Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment MFG Corp. factory, which employs about 5,000 people, in Kompong Speu province’s Samraong Tong district.

Though the arrests came after protesters on Monday broke through a gate at the factory, resulting in windows being broken and projectiles hurled at police, Mr. Mony blamed the violence on a rival union.

“Factory security guards and the union I know as CCAWDU [Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union] attacked [striking workers] when the FTU was trying to negotiate to stop the violence on June 3,” Mr. Mony told reporters.

He said three FTU employees and four FTU members were arrested “without any evidence” and that the eighth person arrested was a CCAWDU official.

Mr. Mony said the FTU would turn to its large membership base, claiming he could summon 100,000 workers to a protest, and also a national strike, unless the eight detainees are released and a the workers at the factory are granted a raise in their basic minimum wage from $80 to $97.50 per month.

“I announce that the FTU will hold a nationwide protest if the government does not release them from police custody,” he said, adding that he had not heard anything about the welfare of the eight, who are believed to be held at the Interior Ministry in Phnom Penh.

The majority of employees at Sabrina are members of CCAWDU, but since May 20, FTU has led strike protests at the factory calling for a wage increase.

A police officer present at the protest Monday, and a CCAWDU leader, both said that FTU representatives were among those who broke through the factory gate and damaged factory property.

However, at the press conference, the FTU brought out 20 workers, including members of both the FTU and CCAWDU, who testified that CCAWDU representatives had instigated the violence.

One worker, Srey Pov, 29, who is a CCAWDU member, said she saw the eight people who were arrested come under attack, and she alleged that Monday was not the first time CCAWDU members had initiated violence at Sabrina.

“I saw many of the CCAWDU representatives using iron poles to attack the FTU representatives and other workers on both May 27 and June 3,” she claimed.

Kong Athit, vice president of CCAWDU, could not be contacted Tuesday to comment on the claims made against his union by the FTU.

(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis)

© 2013, All rights reserved.