The setting is familiar – a garment factory in Kandal province that supplies Levi’s and Gap – and so is the number of people involved, but a strike that has raged at Yung Wah Industrial II factory since Monday has a twist: it’s worker versus worker and union versus union.
Sok Phalla, the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) representative at the Yung Wah Industrial II factory in Takmoa town, said about 5,000 workers have been striking to demand their employer, which also supplies Old Navy, sack two of her union rivals, one of which she claims beat her up.
“We need the company to respect its own internal polices regarding violence in the factory,” she said.
Phalla claims Phorn Sok Khy, who is associated with the Cambodian Labour Union Federation (CLUF), punched her in the face while another CLUF member, Ken Samnang, hurled abuse.
Phalla said Sok Khy is a former C.CAWDU member who now belongs to the CLUF, but claims the assault on her was unprovoked.
“I do not know why she hit me, but I think they want to cancel our union [C.CAWDU] from Yung Wah – even though we have more than 3,000 workers for our union in this factory,” said Phalla.
C.CAWDU claims 2,000 CLUF members have also stopped work to demand the two unionists be sacked.
Sok Khy denied a fight had occurred and had a markedly different story to tell.
“I did not fight or curse them as they said,” she said. “Actually, they fired me from their union after the factory falsely accused me of stealing. And now they want the company to fire me even though I’ve done nothing wrong,” she said.
Sok Khy said the CLUF had negotiated with factory officials, who later issued an apology for accusing her of theft.
“After that I joined CLUF, but I have not punched anyone,” she said.
Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said C.CAWDU rallying 5,000 people to strike after a personal dispute between workers was an example of “how unions operate here”.
“This strike is a not a dispute between workers and employers,” he said. “In many cases that we see, the factory is on the receiving end.
“They are using the factory as a battleground . . . and factories don’t know what to do.”
Um Visal, labour dispute resolution officer at C.CAWDU, said yesterday the union would file a letter to the buyers of Yung Wah II to examine the case.
“But we will take the time for the factory and authority to work with this case first,” he said.
Yung Wah II’s administrative manager Soeun Houth declined to comment yesterday.
Elsewhere in Kandal province, workers from Tai Yang and Camwell factories, also suppliers to Levi’s and Gap, have been striking since June 25 over seniority bonuses.