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Fears SL strike could get ugly

Military police confront SL Garment Processing factory workers during a general strike in Phnom Penh’s  Daun Penh district
Military police confront SL Garment Processing factory workers during a general strike in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district in September. HENG CHIVOAN

Fears SL strike could get ugly

Union officials fear violence that occurred at two separate rallies in front of the SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd factory last week will continue at one scheduled this morning.

About 10 SL strikers were injured during demonstrations on Thursday and Friday, when uniformed and plain-clothes SL employees pelted the crowd of about 1,500 with projectiles, Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union vice president Kong Athit said.

“They used slingshots and they used [air rifles] and they used stones,” Athit said. “The violence was coming from the company side.”

SL shareholder Meas Sotha called Athit’s claims a one-sided attack, asserting strikers pushed through the Meanchey district factory’s iron gates and began hurling rocks at security guards and employees working during the strike.

Employees at SL, one of Asia’s largest garment factories, began walking off the job nearly three months ago, when Sotha hired armed military police to stand guard inside the factory.

Seeing the move as an effort to intimidate workers in the majority C.CAWDU-represented factory, workers in the SL1 and SL2 branches of the factory demanded Sotha’s removal.

In addition, workers now demand a pay raise – $3 per day to subsidise their lunches – and several other points. Since the strike began, SL and C.CAWDU have engaged in several fruitless negotiation sessions facilitated by government officials.

With the diminished productivity that has come from having 5,000 members of their roughly 6,000-person workforce absent, the strike has strained relations with buyers. The Post reported in September that Levi Strauss & Co has stopped buying from SL, with Gap and H&M reducing their orders since August. SL officials calculated those losses at more than $1 million.

Unions are not alone in predicting more violence as demonstrations continue.

“Workers, you know, they might have the misconception that there won’t be any punishment,” said Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia.

“Once again, we need the authorities to enforce” the law, he added.

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