Two garment workers who broke away from the only union operating at their factory in Kompong Speu province in an attempt to provide workers an alternate choice for representation were charged Wednesday with a slew of crimes and are being held in provisional detention, officials and unionists said.
Uong Phary and Y Thary—who were seeking to establish the Union Federation of Asean Workers (UFAW) in the Hong Kong-owned Agile Sweater factory in Chbar Mon City—were charged with incitement, fraud, destruction and making threats following a complaint from the factory and the head of the union they broke away from, according to police.
A third suspect, Heang Dy, is said to be in hiding.
“They threatened other workers with beatings if they did not join their union,” said Sam Sak, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau.
“Two workers were injured before the Pchum Ben festival by two unknown men who covered their face with masks, and the victims accuse [UFAW],” he said, adding that Mr. Thary was detained outside the factory while trying to persuade workers to strike.
According to the complaint, lodged by factory management and Sok Ravuth, head of the Free Union Federation of Khmer Labor [FUFKL] and an adviser to factory management, the trio also used fake documents to collect money from workers, damaged factory property and threatened to organize strikes.
After the pair was questioned at the Kompong Speu Provincial Court, Investigating Judge Chou Lim Heang charged them with incitement to commit a felony, faking documents, intentional damage and threatening workers to join a strike, Mr. Sak said, adding that they had been sent to prison to await trial.
Ley Sokchea, deputy secretary- general of UFAW, said the allegations were a bogus bid to stamp out any independent union presence in the factory.
“I think they arrested our union representatives because they fought to create a new union in the factory,” he said. “This action is an intention to break the spirit of the workers who came to join with us.”
Mr. Sokchea said the arrests came after Mr. Dy defected from FUFKL last month and requested permission to set up a UFAW branch in the factory in reaction to Mr. Ravuth, the FUFKL president, becoming an adviser to factory management.
Mr. Sokchea also accused Mr. Ravuth of telling his members they would “face a problem” if they attempted to garner support among the workforce.
Mr. Ravuth refuted those claims.
“I am not angry with them even though they were all previously members of my union and then left to join with another union,” he said. “But they continued to collect $1 fees from each of our members and I told them to pay the workers back but they refused.”
“They incited workers to destroy factory tables, turn off lamps and beat workers who do not join with them,” he added.
“The factory did not want to file a complaint against them but their activities were extremely aggressive.”
Court officials could not be reached for comment.