Workers from SL Garment Processing (Cambodia)’s SL1 and SL2 factories hold up their ID cards during a protest yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
Employees hurled stones at one of two SL garment factories in Phnom Penh yesterday as they returned to picket lines after management refused to recognise that a document signed on Friday that had enticed them back to work was a formal agreement.
Female worker Rith Sineourn, one of about 5,000 involved in the two-week-long dispute, said dozens of workers threw small stones into the factory to demand the company honour the agreement.
“The company said one thing and when implementing did the other – this caused the workers to be angry and they continued their strike,” Rith Sineourn said.
Workers had believed SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) would pay them for time missed striking, approve rent and travel allowances worth $7 per month and withdraw complaints against their union officials from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU).
Dave Welsh, country director of the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said the document, signed by the government, Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and C.CAWDU, among others, had all the hallmarks of an agreement.
“In my years doing this sort of work, I’ve never come across a document which is thumbprinted by all parties, the bona fide seal in Cambodia, and endorsed by a government representative, which refers to itself as an agreement within the document, but which after the fact is claimed to be no such thing,” he said.
Welsh said it was no secret some in the garment manufacturing industry didn’t like C.CAWDU and it was possible GMAC and SL Garment were trying to tarnish the union’s image on an international stage.
“This strike has attracted more international attention than would be common of most strikes in Cambodia and it has [global] buyers concerned,” he said.
SL personnel manager Ea Chip Ieng declined to comment yesterday, while GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo and Khuon Rannin, under secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs, who attended Friday’s meeting, could not be reached.
C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn expressed concern over the violence, which included a wayward rock hitting a woman in the head.
“This is the company’s trick, to be willing to provoke . . . severe violence and put all mistakes entirely on the workers.”