Police Release Unionists After Workers Surround District Office

Two union representatives were arrested and detained for several hours in Prey Veng province Wednesday as a nearly weeklong strike for better working conditions and bonuses continued at the Chinese-owned Komchay Mear Trading factory, police and unionists said.

Sok Siem and Khhun Sokhom, both representatives of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), were arrested at 6:40 a.m. as they led a protest in front of the factory, which managers said produces garments for the U.S. clothing giant Gap.

After the unionists were taken to the Komchay Mear district office for questioning, about 3,000 striking workers blocked National Road 1 and surrounded the building, demanding the pair’s release.

“They arrested us and took us for questioning at the district office for leading the strikes, but we were released in the afternoon after thousands of workers surrounded the district office,” Mr. Siem said.

“The authorities arrested us without a warrant,” he added. “We believe that this is a threat against the union so that we will not strike against the factory.”

District police chief Siev Sokhom confirmed the arrests.

Since a nationwide strike for higher wages briefly crippled the garment industry in late December and early January, police have ramped up efforts to suppress protests in the sector by arresting, questioning and releasing the unionists organizing them.

On Friday, workers at Komchay Mear burned tires in front of the plant and ensuing talks with factory representatives floundered on Saturday. Mr. Siem said union and factory representatives are scheduled to resume negotiations today, in the presence of provincial Governor Has Sareth.

But factory worker In Chin said the strikes would continue “if a better solution is not found.”

“The workers are just demanding better benefits,” she said. “Why is the factory not responding to us?”

The protest at the Komchay Mear factory coincided Wednesday with a nationwide campaign to increase the minimum wage to $177 per month and saw hundreds of factory workers hold rallies during their lunch breaks.

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