Workers and managers at Cambo Handsome 1 garment factory were continuing discussions last night after a fourth day of protest in which union leaders said more than 20 employees were injured in a confrontation with police.
The workers are protesting against the suspension of three union leaders at the Korean-owned facility, which was triggered by the alleged theft by a union leader last Friday of two T-shirts bound for outlets of The Gap.
“The talks could go late and resume in the morning,” David Kim, an executive at Hansoll Textile’s Seoul headquarters, told the Post yesterday afternoon. Hansoll, which has garment factories in seven countries, owns Cambo Handsome Ltd, which has five factories in Cambodia, employing more than 7,000 workers in total, according to Hansoll.
The dispute, at one of Cambo Handsome’s two factories in the capital’s Dangkor district, began after Van Rin, director of the Labour Friendship Union at the factory, was detained by a security guard for allegedly stealing the two T-shirts during his lunch break.
“We have been in touch with The Gap office and we have updated them on the situation,” Kim said. He dismissed reports that more than 20 women had been injured in a confrontation with district police yesterday morning as “a rumour”.
Sieng Sambath, president of the Federation of Friendship Unions, told the Post the women had, in fact, sustained minor injuries after police blocked them from marching from the factory to the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cabinet to ask for intervention in the dispute.
He said nearly 2,000 workers had marched but were blocked by 50 to 70 police at about 8am. Company officials claim union representatives exaggerated the number of protesters tenfold.
“Police kicked and used electric batons to attack the female workers and block the demonstration,” Sea Sambath said. “More than 20 women were hit on their limbs, back and chest, but none of them sustained serious injuries,” he said.
Dangkor district deputy governor Hem Darith denied police had used force. “The police just pushed the workers not to march because it would cause a traffic jam,” Hem Darith said. “We were obligated to prevent them from marching because it was an illegal demonstration.”
Yesterday was the fourth day of the dispute. Workers are demanding that the theft charge against Van Rin be dropped and that two other union leaders who were subsequently suspended be reinstated. They are also demanding that the company provide them with a transportation allowance and that its security guards be replaced.
Labour Friendship Union vice director Yi Davi, and the vice director of the Cambodian Labor Union, Yi Davuth, were suspended for demanding better working conditions at the factory, union leaders have said.
Cambo Handsome disputes this. “These two unionists were suspended for instigating and threatening other workers to [get] involved in an illegal strike,” Soon Hyung Jo, manager for corporate social responsibility at the company told the Post in an email. They “instigated the workers at Cambo Handsome 1 for many hours by shouting onsite and causing a huge obstruction of our production,” he said. He also disputed workers’ reports that Van Rim had been framed by a security guard who inserted the two Gap T-shirts under the seat of his motorbike.
The conflict with union leaders is not the first at the factory. “The Cambodian Workers Force Democratic Federation Union reported cases of intimidation against its members at the Cambo Handsome 1 garment factory,” according to the Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights compiled by the International Trade Union Confederations.