A union representative is accused of beating a rival over the head with a walkie-talkie during a factory protest yesterday in the latest burst of violence in one of Cambodia’s special economic zones.
Bou Sokray, 25, a representative for the Coalition of Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said he was injured when he was struck over the head numerous times outside the capital’s Evergreen Garment Company factory.
He claimed his attacker was rival union rep Ket Sokhon, from the National Union Alliance Chambers of Cambodia (NACC), which C.CAWDU accuses of supporting the interests of Evergreen’s management.
More than 200 of Evergreen’s 2,500 workers had protested outside the factory in Por Sen Chey district yesterday morning over wages and working conditions, Bou Sokray said.
He told the Post Evergreen administrative staff member Chhun Ly had pushed him as he tried to help the workers mount their protest before Ket Sokhon assaulted him.
“I wanted to co-ordinate, but I was not allowed to enter the factory. Chhun Ly pushed me back, and then Ket Sokhon attacked me about five times in the head with a walkie-talkie,” he said, adding that he wanted US$10,000 compensation from Chhun Ly and Ket Sokhon.
The incident follows three people being shot during a protest at the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory in Bavet town’s Manhattan Special Economic Zone, in Svay Rieng province, on February 20.
C.CAWDU issued a press release shortly after yesterday‘s incident accusing NACC of supporting the interests of Evergreen’s management, which was preventing workers from joining unions other than NACC.
“Evergreen uses all kinds of ways to protect its workers from joining C.CAWDU and has now seriously injured a C.CAWDU representative . . . Evergreen locked workers inside the factory,” the press release said.
C.CAWDU chief Ath Thon said he planned to file a complaint to the Ministry of Interior and the court because police “seemed to work slow”.
Phin Pheap, a police officer in Kan Touk commune, said police had arrested Ket Sokhon.
“The suspect was arrested and questioned. We have decided to detain him,” he said.
NACC president Sam Oun said the alleged attacker had argued with his victim during the protest and the two men had fought, resulting in Bou Sokray being “slightly, not seriously, injured”.
“The C.CWDU officer just got a little wound. I am working to help my staff out of detention,” he said.
Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary-general Ken Loo said he did not believe workers had been locked inside the factory.
“If you’ve seen this factory, you’ll know that with the exits as they are, it’s really not possible to just lock the doors and prevent them leaving,” he said. “The extent of my knowledge is that one worker was injured.”
Loo said violence at factories was “an alarming trend” and it was time for unions to accept responsibility for some of it.
“[Violence] is not something we want to see in factories . . . unions are getting away with protests that don’t comply with procedures.
“Factories comply with the law. The flip side is not true.”
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Centre for International Labour Solidarity, said violence in special economic zones stood out because they were designed to have conditions that reduced the likelihood of violence, but economic considerations were often leaving the plight of workers as an afterthought.
“To have a special economic zone work, it can’t all be about the financial set-up. The government, [the Ministry of Labour] and investors need to get workers’ rights at the front and centre,” Welsh said.
“Cambodia is on the verge of enacting a trade-union law, so all eyes will be on [the country].”