Three unionists were arrested in Kampot province on Tuesday for attempting to persuade workers at a garment factory to strike after their colleagues were fired for trying to unionize, police said on Wednesday.
The arrests came amid weeks of turmoil at the Cambo T.D.G. garment factory in Kompong Trach district, where nearly half of the 700 employees have been on strike since 21 workers were fired on June 24 for trying to set up a union, workers’ representatives said.
Despite factory bosses reinstating 19 of the fired workers, protesters remained on strike over the remaining two.
Sao Sam Oeun, the deputy provincial police chief, said Yon Sambou, 36, deputy secretary-general of the Cambodian Federation Labor Union, along with Sok Siden, 36, and Meas Touch, 35, from the Cambodian Federation of Freedom Union, were detained outside the South Korean-owned factory on Tuesday afternoon.
Provincial police chief Mao Chanmathurith said the unionists were arrested for blocking the entrance to the factory and attempting to persuade workers to strike following a complaint from the factory bosses earlier in the day.
“We arrested them because they were committing unlawful acts by inciting workers to strike by using tables and chairs to block the way into the factory, which prevented the transportation of goods out,” Mr. Chanmathurith said. “They also threatened other workers into not going to work.”
The three were accused of violating articles relating to incitement to commit a felony, he said, a crime that carries a prison sentence of six months to two years. They were questioned on Wednesday and would be sent to the provincial court today, he added.
Den Sam Ath, president of the Cambodian Federation Labor Union, said a feud ignited at the factory after the 21 employees were fired on June 24 for attempting to set up a union there, leading around 300 workers to strike.
“The factory owner didn’t want them to form a union in their factory, because if they had a union it would be difficult to oppress workers,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
On June 30, the factory reinstated 19 of the fired workers, leaving two suspended for two months, Mr. Sam Ath said, adding that some of the strikers had remained on picket lines in solidarity with the pair.
According to Mr. Chanmathurith, the two workers were suspended due to “always provoking problems” in the factory and were given two months “to change their attitude.”
Srey Ny, 30, one of the fired-then-reinstated workers, said workers wanted to secure a union presence in order to improve working conditions.
“We have been striking to demand the company respect work conditions by the Labor Law and we want to create a union to protect the interests of workers,” Ms. Ny said.
A man who answered a telephone call to the factory declined to give his name and requested to be interviewed in Japanese or Korean. Called back and asked questions in Japanese, he declined to comment on the dispute.