Unionists’ Arrest Sparks Protest at Courthouse

About 400 employees of the Agile Sweater factory protested in front of the Kompong Speu Provincial Court on Wednesday, demanding the release of five union officials who were arrested Tuesday after a violent clash with members of a competing union outside the plant.

The arrested men, all members of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) from Phnom Penh, traveled to the factory on Tuesday morning to support an ongoing strike over working conditions and clashed with representatives of the factory-aligned Trade Union Workers Federation of Progress Democracy.

They were arrested the same day and sent to the provincial court, where a prosecutor recommended charges of intentional violence, inciting people to commit crimes and disrespecting a court order, the last for urging the strikers to ignore a court injunction ordering them back to work.

CUMW president Pav Sina said the demonstration lasted from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and that the workers would return to the courthouse today, before heading to Phnom Penh to protest against the prosecutor who recommended the charges.

“The prosecutor, Keo Sothea, is unprofessional,” Mr. Sina said. “He made a decision without finding out who started the violence.”

He denied that his members incited the brawl and said his union would file a pair of complaints with the provincial court today, one accusing Progress Democracy president Sok Ravuth of causing the violence and another accusing the factory of colluding with him.

Mr. Sothea could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ravuth denied starting the fight and said he had filed his own complaint with local police, accusing the five arrested men of attacking him and his union members.

“They beat me and then they sue me; how can they do this?” he said.

Workers at the Hong Kong-owned factory have been on strike since December 25, demanding the removal of an administrator, fixed-term contracts, extra pay for holidays and overtime and higher monthly food and transportation allowances.

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