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Workers face off with police

Hundreds of police wielding electric batons cracked down on a demonstration of close to 1,000 former employees of the now defunct Tack Fat garment factory yesterday, leaving about 50 people “slightly injured”, a union official said.

The demonstration was the latest flare up of a dispute between Tack Fat and more than 1,000 employees it laid off earlier this month when the company declared bankruptcy – offering only limited severance pay to those affected.

Man Sen Hak, a consultant for the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said yesterday workers had blocked National Road Number 2 to demand government intervention in the dispute.

“The workers blocked National Road Number 2 about five minutes before hundreds of authorities arrived at the place and pushed them to go to the sides of the road in order to avoid traffic congestion,” he said.

The company’s compensation offers, he said, fell short of their obligations under Cambodia’s labour law, and government inaction on the issue had prompted the latest demonstration.

“The workers want their compensation only but there has been no resolution, reaching [the point where we decided] to put up the road block.”

Kim You, a lawyer representing Tack Fat in the dispute, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Chheang Thida, a representative for workers at Tack Fat, said the dispute had reached the point where industrial action was the only way forward.

“Workers come to a standoff.  We know that demonstrating affects [public] order [but] if we are silent, no one will help us resolve this; this time, I know that Cambodia is corrupt,” she said.

Huy Pich Sovann, a human rights program officer at the Community Legal Education Centre, said the intervention of government authorities in the demonstration indicated a “joint conspiracy”.

“[It’s] a violation of people’s right of expression,” he said.

Meanchey district deputy governor Bi Nay, said authorities were forced to break up the demonstration because the road block had caused a serious traffic jam.

“Workers have the right to hold demonstrations but they have no right to block National Road Number 2,” he said.
“It is what the authorities have to do to quell [the demonstration] in order to stop the traffic jam.”

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