Almost 70,000 garment workers went on strike across the country yesterday, as the first day of a week-long series of work stoppages passed relatively peacefully, union representatives said. Cambodian Labor Confederation Secretary-General Kong Athit said that 68,380 workers from 53 factories stayed away from work. Most went to the factories in the morning to show their support before returning home, he said.
Despite some reports of police presence outside striking factories, the day passed peacefully and mostly without incident, he said.
Speaking outside the Chung Fai Knitwear Ltd factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district this morning, CLC President Ath Thon said workers were complaining of low-level interference from authorities.
“In all areas, the authorities told people not to rent megaphones to the workers’ representatives,” he said. “We hope the local authorities will understand what we are doing with peaceful means and legal procedure [and] without violence.”
Two union representatives in Kandal province’s Ang Snoul district were briefly detained by district police but were later released without charge, one of the detained men said yesterday.
Speaking shortly after his release, Sat Vichheka said he was detained at around 10 am outside the Darong Printing and Embroidery Co Ltd factory. He says he was questioned for two hours in the district police station.
“The authorities said as an excuse that I played [music] discs, making a disturbance,” he said. He claimed one police officer struck him in the chest while driving to the police station.
Workers outside the Darong factory said that around 40 district and military police showed up to arrest Mr Vichheka.
Another union representative, Lek Thim, was also detained and released, according to Oak Eang, another Darong union representative.
Speaking at his office yesterday, District Police Chief Tith Vong referred questions to district governor Samouth Thoeun, who declined to comment.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak referred questions to National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith, who said he was too busy to comment.
While many of the striking workers stayed away from their workplaces, small contingents of workers and union activists remained in place outside most of the affected factories.
Around 40 workers spent most of the day sitting at the gates of the M & V International Manufacturing Ltd factory in Meanchey district. They huddled under tarpaulins to stay out of the sun and cheered as trucks went in and out of the factory gates.
Union representative Pheung Dany said that around 2,500 of the factory’s 3,500 workers had not turned up for work. Factory representatives declined to comment, though one security guard at the gate said work was still going on inside.
At In Fong (Cambodia) Garment Co Ltd factory in the capital’s Dangkao district, employers attempted to persuade their workers to abandon the strikes.
A notice appeared on the factory gates during lunch stating that any striking worker who returned to the factory in the afternoon would receive full pay for the day, while any workers who joined the strike in the afternoon would forfeit the morning’s pay.
Union representative Prum Heang said no workers returned to the factory. Factory representatives declined to speak to the media.
Workers at In Fong said they were disappointed with their non-union colleagues who did not strike with them, and formed a queue outside the factory gates to call out to them as they left for lunch.
“If they want something we want, they have to come out and join with us. And that is justice,” said Hin Sophal, who said he had worked at In Fong for 5 years.
Some workers who were not part of the walkout, like Nob Sokha, said they wished they could join with their co-workers.
“I want to join the strikes too but I am afraid of losing my income ahead of the Pchum Ben festival,” she said.