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Shoe factory protesters turn up heat

WORKERS from the Tage shoe factory in Choam Chao district on Thursday set fire to tyres after being excluded from a meeting between the factory owner and a district official held to help end an employee walkout over the firing of three union leaders.

Factory employees said that they were angry about being prevented from attending the meeting between the factory owner and a Meanchey district deputy governor that they had previously received permission to participate in.

“We didn’t get anything from the meeting this morning because we weren’t allowed in, and after the meeting they returned to their offices without telling us anything,” said Khin Sakhorn, a Tage factory employee. Company officials were unavailable for comment on Thursday.

One of the three union leaders whose dismissal led to the factory protest last week said demonstrators had ignited the tyres to convince the owner to begin negotiating directly with workers.

“Today we burned the tyres to threaten him and try to force him to come and negotiate with us, but staff that remain loyal to the factory owner put the fires out and threw rubbish at us. Luckily nobody was injured,” said 25-year-old Svay Phorn Sipha.

Workers charged earlier this week that the factory had violated numerous articles of Cambodia’s Labour Law and fired the three union leaders because they wanted to establish a new union that better served the interests of the workers.

Workers also threatened to take their protest to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Takhmao home.

“We will not go back to work if the factory owner does not back down and negotiate with us. We have not stopped the protest, and we will continue to protest every day,” said Sem Vuthy, 24.

Chhum Veasna, president of the Cambodian Federation of Workers, said Thursday that direct negotiations were essential to ending the protest.

“The factory owner should back down and talk face to face with the workers because they just want their three union leaders to be allowed to return to work,” he said.

Koy Tepdaravuth, director of the Labour Disputes Department at the Ministry of Labour, said Thursday that the failure of both sides to resolve the matter would lead to government arbitration.

“Our duty is to encourage the workers and the factory owner to let us help settle their problem if they can’t find the resolution themselves. They still haven’t found a resolution, so I have passed this case to the Arbitration Council.”

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