More than a thousand workers from across multiple industries gathered to celebrate May Day today in Phnom Penh, despite a heavy security presence of around 100 riot police, who at first prevented them from conducting a short march to the National Assembly.
Major unions had planned to assemble 3,000 workers at the Russian Embassy on Sothearos Boulevard and march a short distance to the National Assembly, but were greeted with police barricades and around 40 police officers, stalling their plans.
After nearly two hours of negotiations with local authorities, the unions were allowed to conduct a short march to Australian Embassy, near the parliament, but only after around 100 riot police, equipped with shields, batons and smoke grenade launchers were deployed to watch over them.
“They said [the protest] will affect national security. We said we only want to celebrate May Day, so what effect does it have on national security?” said Ou Tepphalin, deputy president of Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation.
After reaching the Australian Embassy, union leaders addressed the crowds from a makeshift stage, and led them in chants of pro-worker slogans. Workers wearing red headbands hoisted union flags and colourful banners with sector-specific demands written on them.
“We have just come to use a public road to demand our rights, and we hope that the authorities will reconsider [their actions] next year,” said Cambodian Labour Confederation president Ath Thorn.
The union leaders presented Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Lork Kheng with a 16-point petition, which included demands such as a $207 minimum monthly wage for garment workers, better occupational safety guidelines and revisions to the contentious Trade Union Law.
See more pictures from the day here.