European activists detained by Cambodian police at garment protest
Union members from E-garment factory beaten by thugs
Police detained five activists from the Clean Clothes Campaign last Tuesday who were meeting workers at a protest outside a clothing factory near Phnom Penh. The workers were on strike because 41 workers had been illegally dismissed for unionizing. While striking the workers have faced police brutality and seven have been beaten by company affiliated thugs using a stick with nails in it.
Workers say the factory, called E Garment, is supplying to well known brands such as Marks & Spencer, Esprit, Diesel, Okaidi, and VF corporation. The factory is known to have close links with local police, and has a history of suppressing human and labour rights.
Representatives from the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) were taken to a local police station after attending the protest and talking to striking workers, where they were detained and questioned for over 6 hours.
Austrian CCC activist Michaela Königshofer, said: "If Cambodian police arrest international NGO representatives for simply standing outside a factory, I can only imagine about the level of union repression and lack of human rights here. Last month a woman from this factory who was five months pregnant was attacked. Why are they arresting us and not the people who beat these workers?"
The five were eventually released shortly before midnight, to the delight of a crowd of over 50 people who had gathered outside the station, including many workers from the factory, local union officials and workers' rights NGOs.
Ben Vanpeperstraete from the Belgian CCC, said: "Around 30 workers spent the entire evening at the station in solidarity with us. The local union, C.CADWU did all they could to get us out putting themselves at significant risk of reprisal. The CCC will continue to monitor this situation closely and call on all officials to put an end to this violence and rights repression at E-garment and expect the attackers will be prosecuted."
Workers began their strike on 28 January after factory management refuse to implement an agreement signed with C.CAWDU to reinstate 33 dismissed union members, chose to ignore a legal ruling of the Cambodian Arbitration Council, and continue to refuse reinstating 8 C.CAWDU union leaders who had been dismissed after having been victims of a violent attack by thugs inside the factory in 2010. Since beginning the strike, police and thugs attacked workers from the union and trade union staff on two separate occasions, one incident involving a pregnant woman.
A worker at the peaceful protest and a member of C.CAWDU said: “I have worked here for 8 years. We are sad because the factory management will not give us back our work and respect the agreement.”
Said C.CAWDU President Ath Thorn: “The E Garment management is notoriously refusing the Arbitration Council’s ruling to reinstate the dismissed workers. In addition they obviously allying with forced aimed to scare the workers, C.CAWDU staff and our European collegues. Such actions must be thoroughly investigated and subject to trial.”
The workers are demanding primarily that the illegally dismissed union members be reinstated in their jobs, and that the legal amount owed to the workers dismissed and on strike is paid. They are calling on the factory owner and police to end the violence, and on international brands to ensure the right to freedom of association is upheld. Further demands include that the wage in the factory is improved, and that some basic food is provided.