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Police clash with garment workers

TWELVE garment workers were injured in clashes with police outside factories in Phnom Penh and Kandal province, following the suspension of more than 200 union representatives in response to last week’s large-scale strike, labour leaders said yesterday.

Ath Thun, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said the clashes had occurred as workers gathered on Saturday to protest against the suspension of union representatives by factory owners who had deemed the strike – which involved tens of thousands of workers – illegal.

“There were 12 workers injured on Saturday in the strike, and one woman got seriously injured and was sent to the hospital in Kandal,” Ath Thun said.

The woman who was “seriously injured” was involved in an altercation outside the River Rich Textile Ltd factory in Kandal’s Sa’ang district, he said.

He could not provide specific information on her injuries or those of the other 11 workers, though he said most of them were minor.

Phin Sophea, a union leader at the River Rich factory, said that more than 2,000 workers there had refused to turn up for scheduled shifts on Saturday because about 25 union representatives had been barred from returning.

“The workers threatened their employers that if our 25 union representatives are not allowed to work, we will not work on Monday either,” he said.

Kandal provincial police chief Eav Chamroeun said yesterday that police had been called to the scene during Saturday’s demonstration, and that the step was taken in order to ensure the safety of those who had shown up for work.

He said military police had intervened when demonstrators “stopped the factory owner’s car”.

“The garment workers stopped the factory owner’s car when it tried to drive out from the factory, so then military police officials came to move the strikers out of the way,” he said.

Kong Athit, secretary general of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said yesterday that the owners of 20 factories had suspended more than 200 union representatives because of their participation in the strike.

He said factory owners had accused the representatives of organising the strike illegally, a charge he dismissed as baseless.
“We informed the relevant institutions about our plans to strike before we held the strike,” he said.

The strike, which was originally set to last for five days, was called off last Thursday after the Ministry of Social Affairs wrote a letter calling for a meeting later this month to discuss potential “benefits” for workers earning the minimum wage.

In July, government and industry representatives approved a minimum wage increase of US$5, bringing the wage to $61, far below what some union leaders had sought.

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