Factory Strikes Gaining Momentum, Union Leaders Say

As the strikes sweeping Cambodia’s garment industry entered their second day yesterday, union leaders claimed that the number of people staying away from work had more than doubled overnight. According to Kong Athit, secretary-general of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, 144,520 workers from 88 factories did not attend work yesterday. The figure is more than double the 68,320 the union claimed were involved on Monday. Almost 80,000 workers from factories in the Canadia Industrial Park, in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district, joined the strike yesterday, Mr Athit said.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia did not yet have a final estimate of how many had participated in the second day of strikes, GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said yesterday.

GMAC estimated that only around 20,000 workers stayed away from work on Monday and that only around 6,000 to 7,000 had appeared outside factories, according to Mr Loo.

He said he had no doubt that the number of those who missed work had risen sharply but believed that far fewer workers were actively participating in the strikes.

Mr Loo estimated that at least 50 percent of those who were staying away had done so because of intimidation from the union.

He said factories had informed GMAC that large numbers of workers had shown up for work on Monday morning but became afraid when striking workers harassed them at the gates.

“They block the entrances, employ loudspeakers to shout their agenda, so sometimes workers are frightened to show up to work,” he said.

Officials at the Ministry of Labor were unable to say how many workers were involved in the strikes.

Ho Vuthy, deputy director of the general department of labor said he did not know how many workers were involved in the strikes.

Chea Senghong, director of the Labor Dispute Department, said he was still preparing information relating to the first day of the strikes and did not know how many workers had been involved on either day.

Work all but stopped at the more than 20 factories in Canadia Industrial Park yesterday, according to Mr Loo. GMAC was informed that striking workers blocked the entrance to the park and did not allow workers from other factories to pass, he said.

Mr Athit denied that workers blocked any roads during the strikes.

“We are not forcing any workers. We have no right to block any workers,” he said.

Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth said he had not heard any reports of workers blocking roads in Dangkao district.

“They did not block roads, just sat at the factory not working,” he said.

Mr Athit said workers from factories in Canadia Industrial Park had joined the strikes voluntarily.

“The problem was that workers did not participate because they did not get the news” until the strikes started, Mr Athit said.

No arrests were reported yesterday but it appeared that the police presence around the factories had intensified.

At lunchtime yesterday, at least four district police officers were positioned outside the M & V International Manufacturing Ltd factory in the capital’s Meanchey district, where union representative Kim Chheoung said that around 3,000 of the factory’s 3,500 workers were absent.

A security guard at the factory claimed striking workers had thrown stones at those still working on Monday, so police were called to protect people coming in and out of the factory. GMAC’s Mr Loo said he had also heard reports of stone throwing at the factory, a claim the union denied.

Workers leaving the factory yesterday met with jeers from their striking colleagues but no missiles were thrown. Reporters observed around 200 workers leaving the factory for lunch, a figure that would seem to confirm the union total.

Mr Athit said that CLC President Ath Thon and other figures who have been involved with the strikes had been invited to a meeting at the Interior Ministry tomorrow. The meeting is ostensibly to discuss threats made against the union leaders, though Mr Athit said he feared the leaders might be detained if they attended.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said yesterday he had not heard about the meeting.

Mr Loo said GMAC expected employers to apply for a court order today that would compel workers to return to their factories within 48 hours or face dismissal. He also said the association would pursue other legal action against ringleaders.

“We will be seeking legal action very soon…. I don’t know if they know how many laws they have broken,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)

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