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Banners versus batons

Police are accused of breaking a 21-year-old woman’s nose and injuring two other women as about 900 workers marched from the Win Shing-tex Cambodia garment factory in the capital’s Por Sen Chey district yesterday.

Man Vanna, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Unions (C.CAWDU) deputy president at the factory, said garment worker Ry Mom’s nose was broken, causing her to faint, after police officers struck her with batons and punched her several times just a kilometre from the factory.

“The workers had nothing in their hand beside banners, which they carried to ask the factory’s owner to find a solution for them after 10 days of striking without result,” Man Vanna said, adding that about 100 police officers had gathered to stop protesters from marching to the Ministry of Labour.

Two other women received cuts to the face and head. Commune and district police refused to comment.

Workers began striking on March 16, demanding the reinstatement of five suspended unionists and an increase in transportation allowance.

At the heart of the dispute is a collective bargaining agreement that the union has been trying in vain to secure for nearly a year, Ath Thorn, head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), told the Post last week.

According to Ath Thorn, Win Shing-tex had tried to set up a rival union and discouraged employees from joining C.CAWDU, an independent member of CLC that represents more than 50 per cent of workers at the factory and therefore has the right to negotiate a collective agreement.

C.CAWDU representatives met with factory management yesterday for closed-door discussions that lasted more than five hours.

San Sopha, a labour dispute official for C.CAWDU, said the company had promised to increase payments for transportation and reinstate the suspended union leaders.

Negotiations will continue after Khmer New Year.

“More than 20 announcements in a joint convention will be negotiated,” San Sopha said, adding he would file a complaint against the police for their use of violence. “We have photos of police attacking workers,” he said.

Chhin Tao, administration chief at Win Shing-tex, said the workers had promised to return to work today.

“Actually, the company and administration officers were not wrong, but in order to settle this and for the face of the nation, the company agrees to accept the workers’ requests,” he said.

Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said yesterday’s violence would not have occurred if the factory had properly negotiated.

“The larger issue here is that this is one of the rare instances where an independent union is in a position to reach a collective agreement with factory management,” he said. “It’s rare to see a single independent union represent more than 50 per cent of employees and therefore have most representative status [MRS].

“[C.CAWDU] has this, but it is being denied the chance to pursue a collective bargaining agreement. . . . What other recourse do [workers] have other than to protest?” he said. “Had this agreement simply gone through, it would have been unthinkable that any violence would have occurred.”

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia
secretary-general Ken Loo did not say whether factories discriminated against independent unions, but said C.CAWDU had “gone back on their word numerous occasions”.

To contact the reporters on this story: Tep Nimol at tep.nimol@phnompenhpost.com
Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phnompenhpost.com

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