Demonstrations surrounding the establishment of a new union at a garment factory in Kompong Speu province ended Monday after management dropped their complaint against two jailed workers in exchange for protesters agreeing to return to their jobs, a court official and unionists said.
Management of the Agile Sweater factory in Chbar Mon City agreed to drop the complaint of fraud and incitement against three workers looking to gain a foothold for the Union Federation of Asean Workers (UFAW), but still plans to fire them, according to an official.
“The factory and I today decided to drop the complaint because we have reached an understanding and we want all the striking workers to go back to work,” said Sok Ravuth, an adviser to the factory’s managers and president of Trade Union Worker Federation of Progress Democracy (TUWFPD), the sole union operating in the factory.
Uong Phary and Y Thary, who were jailed last week, were charged along with Heang Dy, who is in hiding, following a campaign to encourage workers to defect from TUWFPD and join UFAW, which promised to remain independent of the factory.
Although the factory agreed to drop charges against the three, allowing for the release of Mr. Phary and Mr. Thary, the men will still be dismissed from their jobs, according to Mr. Ravuth.
“The factory will end their contract and pay them severance in accordance with the Labor Law,” he said.
The protest peaked on Thursday when Sam Sak, chief of the provincial police’s serious crimes bureau, said that prosecutor Keo Sothea had told about 600 workers demonstrating outside the provincial court that they would be confronted by the military if they refused to go back to work. Mr. Sothea denied the following day that he had threatened the protesters.
Contacted Monday, Ley Sokchea, deputy secretary-general of UFAW, said the union called off plans to drive 10 trucks full of workers to protest in Phnom Penh Monday.
“The factory and Mr. Sok Ravuth agreed to drop their complaint and our union will stop leading protests,” he said.
Mr. Sokchea said his union would return to negotiating with management to expand its presence “as soon as possible.”
Despite the expectation by the union that the two imprisoned men—charged with incitement to commit a felony, faking documents, intentional damage and threatening workers—would be released, Mr. Sothea, the prosecutor, declined to say so outright.
“We will investigate more, but for the perpetrators, we will take action according to the law,” he said.
William Conklin, Cambodia director for the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based labor rights group, said that while the settlement was good news, the situation at the factory, where the sole union works closely with factory management, was “not ideal.”
“Real union people are fed up with management-dominated unions…and we need to get away from that,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)
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