Striking factory workers plan to move a massive protest supported by the Sam Rainsy Party to the National Assembly today, despite a citywide ban on demonstrations that intervention police say they will enforce.
A minor dispute at the Wonrex (Cambodia) garment factory in Dangkao district last week spiraled into a clash between about 3,000 workers and 150 heavily armed police officers on Monday.
Keo Poeun, Cambodian Coalition of Democratic Workers Union technical adviser, said Tuesday that strikers will move the protest from the factory on National Route 4 to the city’s center because their manager walked out of talks on Monday. “We understand there will be some conflict with the police, but we will try to talk with the police because we want the parliament to solve the problem with us,” he said.
The strike, coinciding with the US State and Labor departments’ review of Cambodia’s garment industry, stems from complaints waged by about 200 workers over piece-rate wages and the fairness of elections for workers’ representatives. Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy has committed his support to the striking workers by calling for an end to management-sponsored unions and gangsters that employees say have muffled their calls for improved working conditions.
Opposition parliamentarian Cheam Cheny said Tuesday that he will negotiate on behalf of workers and will request permission from Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema to stage a peaceful demonstration next week. Cheam Cheny said he and other opposition lawmakers would join the workers whenever they march.
Sam Rainsy on Tuesday rejected speculation that he is using the dispute to mobilize support for the Alliance of Democrats, which is at odds with the ruling CPP over the new government’s composition.
“The opposition is only doing its duty to support people in struggle, people fighting for their rights,” he said. “Regarding the political deadlock—at this stage, we do not consider organizing any demonstration.”
Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia President Chea Vichea—a staunch opposition supporter—said he doubted that Sam Rainsy was using the strike for political gain. But, he said, the unions likely were inflating problems for the benefit of US observers.
“The workers strike because they know the United States government comes to visit Cambodia,” he said, adding that he will join the movement after concluding a separate factory strike. (Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)
US consultations with unions, manufacturers, the Labor and Commerce ministries and the International Labor Organization will affect how many garments Cambodia may export to the US under a bilateral trade agreement. Next year will mark the end of the garment quota bonus, which is determined by the quality of working conditions. (Additional reporting by Saing Soenthrith)