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Union leaders evade arrest, co-workers say

Two union leaders narrowly escaped arrest yesterday morning when employees on strike at a Phnom Penh garment factory forced their release from police and security guards, fellow union officials said.

Seang Sambath, president of the Worker Friendship Union Federation, said WFUF vice president Mao Vannak and secretary-general Yi Yet were detained at about 9am outside the Cambo Handsome factory in Por Sen Chey district, where more than 3,000 workers were on strike.

“Por Sen Chey district police officials and private security guards . . . arrested my two officials who went down there to intervene for workers who had been protesting for more than a week,” he said.

According to Sambath, striking workers grabbed the union officials from the clutches of police and private security personnel.

“They are free now and we sent a letter [to the factory] to set a date for negotiations to find a resolution, but the factory . . . did not accept our letter,” Sambath said, adding that workers will protest again today.

A Por Sen Chey district police official who asked not to be named said the allegations were unfounded.

“We went down there to protect them in case any violence happened. We did not arrest anyone.”

But Phong Leakhena, a WFUF officer, said that about 10 private security guards and two policemen had tried making arrests.

Workers’ demands include a $20 monthly travel stipend and for the director of the sewing section to be fired for using foul language when addressing workers, Leakhena said.

Representatives of Cambo Handsome could not be reached for comment.

Joel Preston, a consultant with the Community Legal Education Center, said Cambo Handsome had “a history of union discrimination”.

In 2011, a strike at the factory over sacked unionists descended into a violent clash with police.

According to Preston, the current ban on union registration means there is “no protection” for unionists.

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