Workers Sent to Court Over Strikes in Bavet Economic Zones

Four workers were questioned at the Svay Rieng Provincial Court on Sunday for allegedly participating in violent protests that effectively shut down factory operations in two special economic zones (SEZs) in Bavet City last week, according to officials.

Tep Phalla, an administrator at the court, said the four workers were sent to the court by provincial police on Sunday morning following protests in the Manhattan and Tai Seng SEZs that resulted in some 30,000 workers being sent home on Thursday and Friday.

“This morning, they were sent to the prosecutor and the prosecutor already questioned them, but I have not received any information yet about further action against them,” Mr. Phalla said, adding that he could not remember the names or other personal information about the workers.

Ou Sokhoeun, deputy director of the provincial labor department, said one of the workers was arrested on Thursday while the other three were arrested on Friday.

On Friday, Mr. Sokhoeun said he suspected unions were working behind the scenes to incite the protests. So far, however, unions with local branches in the SEZs have denied involvement in the industrial action.

“There have only been small groups striking. There are people behind the workers inciting them to strike, but they have not shown up at the sites of protests,” he said.

Chheng Chhoan, president of the Independent Labor Union of Cambodia, which is based in Bavet City, said the protests erupted over worker demands for an additional $8 per month, on top of a $12 raise to the monthly minimum wage set to take effect next month.

“No union showed its face to intervene or help get a response to the demand, and the protesters also did not ask for help from any unions,” Mr. Chhoan said.

Khun Sokhom, coordinator of Cambodian Labor Confederation in Svay Rieng, said his group believed the demands were reasonable, and had offered to facilitate negotiations between workers and factory     management—only to be rejected.

“We have encouraged the authorities to respond to the demands as early as possible,” he said. “But they don’t have any intention to respond to the demands. Instead, they just want the workers to go back to work.”

Mr. Sokhom added that the Kingmaker factory—one of 25 factories operating in the Manhattan SEZ—had promised workers $20 per month last year in exchange for their promise to abstain from all forms of protest.

“But on Wednesday morning, officials from the Labor Ministry …disseminated [information about] the official raise to workers in the zones,” he said, adding that when workers from Kingmaker did not see the additional sum included in the raise, they reacted angrily.

Representatives of Kingmaker could not be reached Sunday.

Mao Kosal, operations manager at the Tai Seng SEZ, said between 20 and 30 percent of all workers had returned to their stations as of Saturday, but that most factories were operating at a reduced capacity.

“A lot of workers told me that they would follow each other, which means that if other workers go back to work, they will too,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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