About 500 striking workers from the Y&W garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district on Wednesday destroyed potted flowers and burned tires after Chinese managers placed mannequins dressed in military uniforms outside the facility to mark China’s National Day.
The workers—1,500 of whom have been protesting since Monday over pay, working conditions and two recently sacked unionists—became enraged after factory officials placed the mannequins and flowers in front of the facility, said Kheng Phearom, a representative of the Khmer Union Federation of Workers Spirit (KUFWS).
“The workers did this because the factory took mannequins and dressed them up in the RCAF [Royal Cambodian Armed Forces] uniforms, and they believed that was an insult to the nation of Cambodia,” Mr. Phearom said. “We did not tell [the workers] to do that, they did it by themselves.”
The protesters also burned several tires before managers hurried the mannequins inside.
“This is an insult against our nation. It is not right for them to put our Cambodian uniforms over lifeless beings,” said Suong Samnang, a KUFWS representative who was fired for mobilizing workers to strike prior to last week’s Pchum Ben holiday.
“When they brought the mannequins back inside the factory, their heads fell off. What are they trying to say to us?” he said.
Long Yang, administrative director at Y&W, denied that the mannequins and potted plants were meant to offend the workers, saying they were meant to honor Chinese soldiers on a Chinese public holiday, the name of which he did not know.
Wednesday was China’s National Day, which is celebrated every year on October 1.
“The military uniforms placed on the mannequins were meant to honor Chinese heroes who lost their lives in battle. Our Chinese director was not trying to insult the workers’ nationality,” Mr. Yang said.
The Y&W workers are calling for a $1 daily lunch allowance, a $15 monthly travel and housing bonus, and a $15 attendance bonus, along with the reinstatement of Mr. Samnang and fellow union representative Ek Chan Pheakdey.
Negotiations between union and factory representatives will continue at the Ministry of Labor today, KUFWS’ Mr. Phearom said.