Workers Block Gates, Burn Tires At Japanese-Owned Box Factory

About 80 workers protesting against a Japanese factory in Phnom Penh that produces cardboard boxes blocked the gates Friday after managers refused to hold a meeting with employees.

Workers burned tires in front of the Harta Packaging factory, which they have been protesting against since February, demanding seniority wages retroactive to the beginning of 2004.

A six-day strike in February was ended by a court injunction, after which the factory fired 285 workers, according to union representatives.

“Today at the protest we saw the workers block the gate, but we didn’t crack down because we are waiting to see if the factory reaches a resolution with the workers,” said Yin Kea, a deputy director of the Pur Senchey district administration.

According to Mr. Kea, Phnom Penh prosecutor Keo Socheat received a complaint from the factory Friday morning over the protest, which was preventing workers from entering or leaving the factory, and told workers he would charge representatives if they refused to leave.

“The prosecutor blames the workers for an illegal protest but the factory isn’t following the Arbitration Council ruling,” said Puth Sovann, president of the Trade Union of Federation for Workers.

The Arbitration Council issued a non-binding order on May 30 saying the workers had to be given seniority pay, Mr. Sovann said.

Protester Hong Nang, 28, said the threats from the prosecutor would do little to deter her.

“I will still protest until I get my seniority wage, even if the protest is cracked down on by the authorities,” she said. “We haven’t detained anyone. We just don’t want the factory to transport materials or goods out of the factory until we have been paid.”

Harta general manager Siva Kuma, however, insisted the blockade was illegal, saying: “This is an illegal protest because people cannot go out of the factory.”

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