Two days after industry-wide garment strikes came to an end, thousands of Kandal province workers walked out again on Saturday after employers refused to let strike organizers return to work, union leaders and rights workers said.
At least 10 workers suffered minor injuries after more than 1,000 workers briefly clashed with provincial military police outside the River Rich Textile factory in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, according to Licadho technical supervisor Am Sam Ath.
The workers walked out to protest the suspension of 24 union representatives involved in organizing last week’s strikes, he said.
Kong Athit, secretary-general of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said the factory had prevented about 200 union representatives from at least 20 factories from going back to work over the weekend.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court ruled on Thursday that last week’s strikes had been illegal and gave workers until today to return to work.
Factories in Kandal province have said they will not allow strike organizers to return pending legal action over last week’s strikes. Sung Chung Men of River Rich said yesterday that the strike organizers would not be allowed to return to work.
“These people are troublemakers. I do not know how to control my workers now,” he said of the banned strike organizers. Other workers were welcome to return to work, he said, adding that the factory had called police to restore order.
Provincial police and military police were unavailable yesterday.
In Sokreth, a union representative at the Winner Knitting factory in the same district, said he and nine other CLC representatives were also prevented from returning to work.
“They accuse me of being an instigator…. I didn’t force [workers]. It was a voluntary act,” he said.
The CLC last week led a series of strikes in which tens of thousands of workers called for better bonus pay. The strikes were called off on Thursday after the Ministry of Social Affairs issued a statement announcing a meeting on Sept 27 to discuss bonuses.
Oum Mean, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor, said yesterday only that wage negotiations were separate from any legal action against strike organizers.
“The ministry issue and the court issue are different,” he said.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that since a court injunction was now in effect, workers could be fired if they continued to protest the suspension of their leaders.
Today “if the workers do not return to work…the factories can terminate their employment,” he said.
Mr Athit called on workers to remain calm and go to work as normal while the union tried to resolve matters. He said the union did not plan to resume striking until other options had been explored.
“We will not immediately return to the strikes. We have to discuss things clearly with the government first,” he said.
But some representatives on the ground appeared less patient. Phin Sophea, a CLC representative at River Rich, said that around 2,000 workers planned to strike again today if their leaders were not reinstated.
Mr Athit said the union would follow correct legal procedure in trying to ensure that all workers could go back to their jobs, but that he was not confident the courts would deliver a fair judgment.
“We don’t trust the courts. We will try to talk to the Prime Minister and the government. Their order was to find a solution,” he said.