An ongoing labour dispute turned violent yesterday after striking garment workers in Kandal province said they were attacked by security guards, while in a separate case involving labour-related violence, a prominent union leader was summonsed for questioning over a scuffle he has publicly accused factory owners of planning themselves.
At about 8:30am yesterday morning in Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district, workers from the Starlight garment factory rallied with an outside union to march to Phnom Penh.
But the workers, who have been protesting over the recent dismissal of eight employees they say were trying to start a union, were met with unexpected resistance near the factory.
“A group of security guards from the factory and the 7NG [economic zone] came over, some holding knives, and violently attacked union officials and workers,” said Sieng Rithy, director of the Cambodian Labor Solidarity Union Federation.
Eight workers and unionists were slightly injured in the ensuing melee, while one worker, Sem Seth, was more seriously hurt, Rithy said.
Contacted by the Post, Seth said he was slashed in the neck by a knife-wielding security guard, but that he had returned home after a stint at a local public hospital.
While workers managed to complete their march, no arrests were made following the violence. Provincial police chief Ev Chamroeun yesterday said police were investigating but declined to offer further details.
Meanwhile, in another case where authorities and employers have been accused of orchestrating violence against workers, prominent union leader Pav Sina and another union official have been summoned to appear at Kampong Speu Provincial Court for questioning over a violent incident at the Agile Sweater factory last month.
The summons effectively expands the case of five Collective Union of Movement of Worker unionists who were arrested during the scuffle on January 12 but bailed out six days later. The five unionists were also named in the summons, along with CUMW official Suth Chet.
The seven CUMW members must appear at the court on February 29 lest they be arrested, provincial investigating judge Men Vannak wrote in the summons.
Pav Sina has publicly claimed that the scuffle was trumped up by local authorities acting in cahoots with employers. CUMW officials said they were the ones who were attacked after they came to the factory to assist workers who had been protesting for weeks, blaming a pro-factory union.
“On January 12, we only went to meet the factory representatives to solve the problems requested by workers, but at that time, the pro-factory union men beat 11 union officials with sticks and knives, including myself – I was beaten on my head and my back,” said Chet, who was present at the scene.
He said that the CUMW would comply with the court’s demand.William Conklin, country director for the Solidarity Centre, said it was not uncommon for employers to use violence in labour disputes, especially when factory owners and local authorities tended to be “all locally connected”.
“They would rather use violence to get things their way . . . they have impunity,” he said.But Ken Loo, spokesman for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said that such sinister tactics would be counterproductive for employers.
“We never condone violence by any party, because that’s not the way to resolve any labour dispute.”
According to figures released during a City Hall meeting on Friday, 443 protests took place in Phnom Penh in 2015, one more than in 2014.
Almost exactly half of those protests – 222 – were by garment workers.