About 1,000 workers at a Korean- and American-owned garment factory in Phnom Penh protested on Saturday, saying that the company had hired a police officer to its administrative staff for the sole purpose of intimidating them and dividing the workforce.
Bou Thet, the local union president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation (WFUF) at the International Fashion Royal Co Ltd, factory in Dangkor’s Choam Chao commune, said the strike was called to protest the employment of Immigration Police officer Gneth Chanara.
“The Korean general manager tried to threaten us a lot, and put a one-star police [general] to scare us,” Thet said, adding that he had previously been fired before protests led to his reinstatement.
According to Thet, Chanara claimed to be a general and “had used his power to threaten many of the workers, including some factory management and staff”. He believes that Chanara was hired to sow discord among the staff and to erode union support.
Chanara also allegedly accused members of the administrative staff of stealing and “suspended” them by shutting off their computers and telling them to go home, Thet said.
Thet added that he had recently been summonsed for questioning following a complaint he believes was filed by Chanara to the commune police. When Thet and some 200 workers arrived at the police station on Thursday, authorities claimed they did not know who had filed the complaint, he said.
Reached yesterday, Commune Police Chief Theng Kosal confirmed that the union leader had been called for questioning on Thursday following a complaint from the factory, but he contended that he had not shown up at the station.
Meanwhile, Immigration Police spokesman Kep Sarin was unable to confirm Chanara’s rank, referring the question to Chanara’s superior, Taing Sovichea, the chief of the Immigration Police’s Refugee Department. Reached for comment, Sovichea hung up on a reporter and further inquiries with Sarin went unanswered.
When called, a number associated with Chanara was answered by an individual who claimed to have never heard the name.
Speaking anonymously, a member of the factory administration said that Chanara had been appointed to be a human resources manager and was widely disliked.
“[He] threatened us very badly, and suspended office staff. No one likes him, and he always tried to scare us,” the source said.