Five members of an independent union were arrested yesterday following a bloody scuffle at the Agile Sweater Factory in Kampong Speu province that unionists say was instigated by a gang under the command of the factory’s pro-government union.
Officials from the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, or CUMW, arrived at the factory at 6:40am yesterday to provide support for workers protesting there since December 24 over a list of nine demands. CUMW member Mom Ratha said the unionists were met by 10 people, who immediately began to beat them with sticks.
“They hit me in the head and I got bloody there,” he said.
But when police arrived, five union officials were arrested instead, Ratha said.
“It’s a great injustice for us when the authorities arrested our guys while they let the people who beat us go . . . Authorities conspired with that group.”
Local authorities denied the account, blaming the beatings on union members trying to block workers from returning to work.
“In this violent case, they beat each other, and we arrested five people because they beat up other people and they did not allow workers to go to work in the factory,” said provincial prosecutor Keo Sothea, who declined to elaborate.
On January 8, an injunction was issued by the provincial court ordering the factory’s workers to return to work within 48 hours.
The injunction also ordered the CUMW and other unions to stop leading strikes and “threatening” workers from going back to work.
CUMW president Pav Sina said the union appealed the injunction and accused Sok Ravuth, the head of Agile’s only union, of being behind the beatings yesterday as well as another attack on union officials on January 6, when the CUMW first came to help.
“We ask the government to take action against Sok Ravuth, his accomplices, and the employers who conspired to beat our union trying to help the workers,” he said.
The five CUMW officers arrested yesterday are Khat Lot, Prom Bunthorn, Mao Moy, An Thona and Cham Samnang, Sina said. Six other union officials were injured, he said.
Sina added that if the Kampong Speu court did not release the officers, the union would demonstrate nationwide.
A previous dispute at Agile in October erupted after two workers were arrested for incitement for trying to start another union in the factory. The dispute ended following the two workers’ release.
Factory representatives could not be reached yesterday.