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Strikers rally for jailed leaders

Strikers rally for jailed leaders

2 Riot Police
Riot police stand watch across from Sabrina garment factory as workers protest in front of Kampong Speu Provincial Court yesterday. They are seeking the release of eight arrested union leaders. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

More than 1,000 workers from Sabrina (Cambodia) Garment Manufacturing factory gathered in the rain at Kampong Speu Provincial Court yesterday to demand the release of eight union members arrested on Monday.

At least 23 people – including nine police officers – were injured in clashes that occurred during factory protests, when strikers exchanged volleys of sticks and stones with employees who remained at work.

Despite heavy rain yesterday, the almost all-female demonstrators carried placards and peacefully stood outside the court, while many of the 100 or so police and military police officers present sought cover in the court compound.

No workers have been able to speak to the arrested since Monday, 29-year-old Srey Pov, who has worked at the Nike supplier for three years, told the Post yesterday.

“We went to the prison, but prison officials told us to go to the court, saying they would send them to the court in the evening. We would like the court to set them free because they have done nothing wrong,” she said.

The protesters would return to the court tomorrow and continue to protest until the Free Trade Union (FTU) representatives and workers were released, she added.

Ny Dyna, wife of a detained FTU representative, said she had not been allowed to see her husband since Monday.

“They did not allow even the food I brought to get to him. It was also denied,” she said.

Speaking outside the court, Kao Ty, a defence lawyer for the unionists, said his eight clients were sent from the Ministry of Interior to Kampong Speu Provincial Court on June 4 and were charged yesterday with intentional violence and intentional property damage.

“I will apply to the court for bail tomorrow morning because I have to study the case clearly,” he said, adding that he saw the names of another eight people yet to be arrested on a court list of suspects.

Cheum Rithy, the Kampong Speu Provincial Court judge in charge of the case, confirmed the charges against the eight already in jail yesterday.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) has run a strongly worded statement in print media outlets today condemning the strikes that began on May 21 and calling on the government to strictly enforce its laws.

“The blocking of factory gates, prohibiting access to and from the factory, the use of verbal and physical threats preventing workers from going to work are all in direct violation of both the Labor Law as well as the Law on Demonstrations,” the statement reads. It calls on the government to “immediately apprehend those responsible and bring them to justice” in order to bolster investor confidence in the industry.

The Sabrina factory is also running a statement in local media today, citing its generous pay rates and blaming the FTU for inciting violence by threatening employees.

“The salary structure of Sabrina . . . is already much higher than existing legal requirements. Sabrina has always been one of the factories with best benefits in Cambodia,” the statement from Sabrina president Susan Chen says, citing a minimum monthly wage of $117 for workers, $42 higher than mandated by the government.

“We do not deserve the payback of strike and especially not violence,” it reads.

Most workers at the Sabrina Garment factory are C.CAWDU members, with the protesters largely drawn from FTU ranks, GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo told the Post yesterday.

“It’s a case of unions intruding on each other’s rights. There is a majority union and a minority union … if you are a newly established minority union, you are not going to get members by doing nothing … It’s a show of strength, a flexing of muscle [by the FTU],” he said. 

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH

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