Police threatened workers and fired shots into the air as a dispute involving about 800 Cambodian workers at Phatthana Seafood Co Ltd in Thailand’s Songkhla province escalated yesterday, a workers’ representative said.
Sok Sorng said “many police” had threatened workers with guns as more than 1,000 workers, including some from Myanmar and Thailand, rallied against management locking them out of the factory, which is believed to be a supplier of retail giant Walmart, a day after they went on strike over wages.
“There were so many police deployed in front of the factory,” he said.
Police had threatened to shoot workers if they entered the factory, and fired their guns into the air to disperse the crowd, Sok Sorng said.
“They wanted us to be scared,” he said.
“No one was injured during this incident, because we did not want to see any violence . . . we decided to go back to our rental house. We will protest again until we get a solution.”
The workers went on strike on Sunday, accusing Phatthana, a major global seafood exporter and a member of the PTN group, of scrapping a 20-baht (US$0.64) daily food allowance and a 20-baht daily hard-work bonus after the provincial minimum wage was raised from 176 baht to 246 baht on April 1.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, said workers had arrived at the factory yesterday expecting talks with the factory’s management after their strike did not produce a result the day before.
“When the workers came to the factory, it was locked. Workers were trying to get in the factory, but the company denied them entry,” he said.
Police were called after the group protested outside, Moeun Tola said.
“Some of the workers were trying to push the gate in. Police fired into the sky, but no on was injured,” he said. About 15 police officers had been deployed to the factory.
Workers were also frustrated because their low wages are being cut even more due to a shortage of work and because they are being forced to pay for accommodation that was supposed to have been provided for free, Moeun Tola said.
“The problem is the company has not implemented the contract . . . accommodation was supposed to be free of charge,” he said, adding that workers were being made to pay for accommodation that did not have a toilet.
“The workers sometimes don’t have work to do – if they don’t have work, they do not get paid. But they cannot move because their passports are withheld [by the company],” he said. “We are trying to figure out how to support them, but we have learned that Thailand’s deputy minister of labour and the owner of Phatthana will come to the factory to find a resolution.”
About 70 per cent of the 2,000 workers at the factory are Cambodian.
Cambodian firm CDM Trading Manpower sent the workers to the Thai factory. It has been accused of threatening worker Keo Ratha after he spoke out in January about working conditions there. CDM Trading Manpower director Duong Saran hung up his phone yesterday when the Post asked him about these conditions.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said Phatthana Seafood had failed to follow the labour law.
“Workers were promised a meeting this morning for negotiations, but instead met locked factory doors – which shows the contempt the factory owner has for their basic rights,” he said yesterday. “The Thai government should demand all sides come to the table and bargain in good faith, and restrain the police, to ensure no violence takes place.
“And the companies that are sourcing seafood from the factory need to step up and prod the factory ownership to do the right thing by the workers.”
Thai Vice Minister of Labour Anusorn Kraiowatnussorn declined to comment about police firing their guns. “I believe there was a misunderstanding about the wage,” he said. “I will follow this up today.”
Spokesmen from Cambodia’s Foreign Affairs, Interior and Labour ministries did not answer phone calls from the Post.
Phatthana Seafood could not be reached for comment. Walmart did not respond to emailed queries prior to press time.