After a garment factory clash this weekend that was the most violent since deadly protests in January, police in Kampong Cham province are holding 10 people, several of whom weren’t involved, according to unionists and witnesses.
Accounts of a melee on Saturday differ between police and the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), the union representing many of the workers, but both sides agree that around 7am, police in riot gear were posted in front of Juhui Footwear with orders to keep 2,000 employees out.
“The workers returned to the factory after the factory announced on October 24 [they could return],” a C.CAWDU statement says. “But when the workers arrived, police forbade them, and injured workers with electric batons and shields.
Juhui’s Human Resources manager and two other high-ranking officials did not respond to phone calls or emails from the Post yesterday.
C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn said the standoff escalated when police took away a microphone and speaker from jilted workers. Then, Thorn said, police beat a woman, leading the crowd to attack authorities.
Kampong Cham’s Cheung Prey district police chief Heng Vuthy said a mob bearing sling shots, stones and petrol showed up, standing toe-to-toe with authorities. They went after police after being told to disperse, he said.
“The protesters did not listen to the police who tried to stop them from continuing to protest, and they considered police their enemy,” Vuthy said yesterday. “It was not a demonstration or a strike; this was a riot.”
As violence intensified, workers got through Juhui’s first gate, where a road leads to the second gate, behind which the factory stands, Thorn said.
At that point, about 200 “gangsters”, led by the Voice Khmer Union Federation (VKUF), a union representing some of the factory’s 6,000 workers, bounded out from inside the factory and beat workers with sticks, Thorn said.
Worker representative Khan Kolap, 36, who was at the scene, said the “gangsters” injured up to 30 people. Juhui management, she alleged, compensated the assailants for their effort.
“I saw with my own eyes that day, factory officials outside paid about 200 gangsters 20,000 riel [$5] to beat us,” said Kolap, who added that she was injured in her arm and body from blows by iron pipes. “I’m afraid for my safety, so I will hide in a safe place for a while, but will come back when my security is assured.”
Police arrested eight people at Juhui, authorities said. By C.CAWDU’s account, they were handed to authorities by VKUF members. They later picked up Juhui’s C.CAWDU factory president and another factory activist, who were brought to the police station with the others.
At least one of the eight arrested in front of the factory had no involvement with the nearly two-month strike or factory itself, said Chhuth Thoeun, 53, whose 28-year-old son Thoeun Bun Thorn remains locked up.
“My son is not a worker at Juhui, he drives a motorbike and was drinking coffee nearby the factory when he saw the protest,” Thoeun said. “He was arrested while driving away.”
Vuthy said nine police officers were injured, including one who was seriously injured when gasoline got into his eye, and was hospitalised.
The clash, as well as a continuing strike at Grand Twins garment factory and the partial collapse of a Takeo province factory floor last week, casts a dark shadow over what could be a historic industrial minimum wage decision for the garment sector in coming months, said Dave Welsh, president of labour rights group Solidarity Center.
“Frankly, I think it puts additional pressure and additional bad light on the manufacturers and the government at the same time,” Welsh said.