Thousands of unionists protesting their dismissal clashed with managers at a footwear factory in Kompong Cham province Monday morning, leaving at least two Taiwanese supervisors with head injuries.
About 2,000 workers—who were fired from the Juhui footwear factory in Choeung Prey district last month over demonstrations that have been going on for more than a month—forced their way into the factory and began throwing rocks at Taiwanese managers before security forces intervened.
At about 8 a.m., the workers pushed through a gate manned by security guards and began arguing with their former supervisors, according to Khon Khoy, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho.
“[I]nside of the factory’s compound…they got into a verbal argument with the Taiwanese managers,” Mr. Khoy said.
“About 100 riot and military police surrounded the manager’s office and factory compound to prevent the workers from protesting and throwing rocks,” he said.
The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) has been organizing strikes at the factory since September 1, when 5,000 workers walked out over a list of 15 mostly pay-related demands.
On September 16, Juhui managers fired the workers for refusing to abide by a court injunction ordering them to stop protesting and return to work, but rehired about 3,000 of them following the Pchum Ben holiday last month.
CCAWDU members say they were excluded because of their union affiliation.
Hel Soklin, a 23-year-old Juhui worker who joined Monday’s protest, said the sacked unionists had lost patience.
“The workers no longer care if there is violence, because the factory violated the Labor Law,” Ms. Soklin said. “We were simply demanding bonus pay and…benefits, but they fired us and banned CCAWDU members from working at the factory.”
Ms. Soklin admitted the workers threw rocks at the managers, but claimed the barrage had been in “self-defense,” because a Taiwanese manager attacked them first, slapping a female worker.
“The male workers surrounded the Taiwanese managers when someone screamed, ‘Chinese are hitting Khmers!’” she said.
Ms. Soklin also said some workers had blocked a road leading to the factory, which prevented an ambulance from reaching the injured managers.
Choem Senghung, provincial deputy police chief, said that if security forces had not stepped in, the violence would have escalated further.
“During the clash between the workers and the factory, two Taiwanese supervisors received head injuries, but merely bandaged up the wounds instead of getting proper medical help,” he said, adding that no arrests were made.
“There were so many people that we didn’t know who threw the rocks,” he said.
CCAWDU official Khun Sokhom, who observed Monday’s protest in Kompong Cham, said that at least four female workers also sustained minor head and face injuries.
Het Hun, a CCAWDU representative at the factory, said the violence only occurred because the managers “looked down on” the workers.
“When the workers got into the factory, the Taiwanese manager grabbed the collar of one of the workers’ shirts and slapped her, which angered the other workers,” he said.
Provincial labor department director Cheng Heang said that after the protest died down, his department mediated talks between union and factory representatives, but no resolution was reached.
“Both sides agreed to resume negotiations again at the factory on October 10. The unionists agreed to stop demonstrating until then, and the factory agreed not to force the workers who are still employed to come to work,” he said.
A representative of Juhui factory could not be reached for comment.
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