Unions Trade Barbs Over Violent Factory Strike

Two rival workers unions continued to trade barbs Thursday, each blaming the other for a violent clash between striking garment workers and police at a factory in Kompong Speu province on Monday that saw eight people arrested.

The Free Trade Union (FTU) has led strikes for higher pay at Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment MFG Corp.—which produces clothes for U.S. sports giant Nike—in Samraong Tong district since May 21. On Monday, eight people linked to the FTU were arrested and charged after workers stormed the factory’s compound.

The Coalition of Cambodian Ap­parel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU)—of which the majority of Sabrina workers are members, but which has not backed the strike—held a news conference Thursday to reject FTU claims it had instigated violence.

“[On Monday], about 100 Free Trade Union [members] jumped the fence on the right side of the factory and opened the side gate. Then they opened the front gate and used wooden sticks and slingshots to attack us,” said CCAWDU vice president Kong Athit, adding that at a separate May 27 protest, the FTU had forced 3,000 workers out of the factory to protest.

“We may file a complaint against them [the FTU] if they keep disseminating information that ruins our reputation,” he continued.

CCAWDU also provided a short video clip that showed workers rushing into the factory with sticks and hurling projectiles, claiming that they were FTU representatives.

The FTU once again denied any role in the violence Thursday and accused their rival of doctoring the video. “The video was edited by CCAWDU,” said FTU spokesman Pich Ponareay.

The factory and the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) have both released statements appearing to place blame on the FTU.

A statement signed by Sabrina president Susan Chen said the strike was “not conducted in compliance with legal procedure.”

“On 27 May and again on 3 June, [FTU] obstructers charged into the factory wielding iron sticks and wooden poles, threatened the working employees, and destroyed factory properties. Slingshots were also used to fire homemade metal bits at glass windows,” the statement reads.

For their part, GMAC called for zero tolerance from the government toward violent strikes.

“Strikes organized by minority unions and especially where a [collective bargaining agreement] is in place [as is the case with Sabrina] should not be tolerated and the offenders severely punished,” GMAC’s statement says.

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