Thousands of angry garment factory workers, en route yesterday to the Ministry of Social Affairs in a protest over alleged sexual harassment, were stopped in their tracks by about 100 armed police and ordered back to the workplace.
More than 2,500 workers from Phnom Penh’s Ocean Garment factory, which manufactures clothing and footwear for retail giant Gap, made it barely 100 metres from the Dangkor-district site before police, bearing batons, intervened.
On strike for more than a week, the workers have demanded the company’s director dismiss a manager who allegedly sexually harassed four female workers.
None of the women have thus far made criminal complaints.
Ocean Garment worker representative Keo Kim Heang said a slew of staff had faced unfair treatment from the manager, and would continue to strike until he was sacked.
“He threatened the female workers . . . or did not allow them to work overtime when they refused to go out or sleep with him,” she said.
Although the company yesterday agreed to negotiate with workers, Kim Heang said the workers had appealed to the ministry as a last resort after hearing nothing since the strike began on August 11.
Ocean Garment administrative manager Choun Vicheka said he could not comment.
“I do not want to say anything, because tomorrow [Tuesday] we are meeting with the workers and social affairs ministry officials to find out the solution,” he said.
Houn Vanna, general secretary of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said he thought the company should mediate with workers.
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labor Solidarity, said the allegations were serious and it was crucial to resolve the issue immediately.
“There are other ways to legally go about this. These fall under criminal charges, and we would give the unions and workers full support to go down that avenue," Welsh said. “If they do not deal with this, more pressure will follow,”
The workers, union delegates and government officials are due to sit down with company representatives today.