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Workers ‘locked inside’ during overtime strike

Workers at two different garment factories say that managers locked them inside their workplaces last week when they tried to participate in a boycott of overtime.

Union representatives and rank-and-file employees at Kampong Speu province’s Complete Honour Footwear Industrial Cambodia Co, Ltd and Dai Yi Fashion in the capital’s Russey Keo district yesterday told the Post that management locked the doors as local police intimidated workers after they completed their regular eight-hour shifts, forcing them to work overtime.

“The factory forced the workers to work overtime and locked the gate” on Monday and Tuesday of last week, said Ngem Sophan, president of Worker Friendship Union Federation (WFUF) in the Dai Yi factory.

Lock-ins at about 4pm – the end of the factory’s normal eight-hour shift – early last week coincided with the beginning of a week-long boycott of overtime work supported by a coalition of 18 unions and union federations. The boycott was held to demand an industry minimum wage increase to $160 per month, the release of 21 detainees arrested at demonstrations supporting a nationwide garment strike in January and five other points.

Two other employees at Dai Yi yesterday told the Post that management there locked the gates and forced them to work overtime. Sophan added that workers were threatened that management would cut wages and fire workers who resisted.

Dai Yi administrative manager Dy Chanthy yesterday denied forcing employees to work overtime, but admitted that the factory locked the gates, saying it was only to defend against unionist agitators.

“[WFUF] incited the workers to leave their overtime work,” Chanthy said. “We decided to lock the gate, because we have to protect the workers’ safety from their incitement.”

Three of Complete Honour’s four buildings also had their gates locked at 4pm on Monday and Tuesday, according to four employees, including a union representative at the factory.

When doors were unlocked before the overtime shift ended, workers were threatened with arrest if they chose to leave, 28-year-old employee Srey Neang said.

“The factory officials and few police closed the door [to the] working room and stood in front of the door to prohibit the workers from leaving their overtime work,” Neang said. “We wanted to leave but we were threatened with arrest.”

Xi Jaing, a member of Complete Honour’s administrative staff, yesterday denied the incident, only saying the factory had several local police officers on hand to protect employees from a minority of dissidents who may cause violence.

Under Cambodia’s labour law, overtime work is optional.

While unfamiliar with the specific cases, Cambodian legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the reports equated to false imprisonment. The crime of illegal confinement for 48 hours or less is punishable by one to three years imprisonment, Sam Oeun said.

After a Post reporter told Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, of allegations made by Complete Honour employees, he said GMAC would investigate.

He was unavailable when the Dai Yi accusations surfaced later.

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