Violence flared again yesterday at long-running protests for higher wages in the town of Bavet in Svay Rieng province, leaving three police and military police officers injured in fresh clashes with workers.
Police used water cannons for the second straight day to break up the demonstrations. Two fire trucks were also damaged in the latest violence in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ), a provincial official said.
“The workers threw rocks at the police and military police who tried to break up their protest,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “They were wearing helmets, but the rocks broke them.” He said the injuries were minor.
Workers at the Manhattan SEZ and the neighboring Tai Seng SEZ have been protesting and clashing with police since last Thursday, demanding a bigger increase in the minimum wage for garment workers than the $12 a month approved by the government in October.
The increase takes the minimum wage to $140 a month from January 1, but the workers are demanding $150.
The provincial official said authorities ordered the workers to go home if they were not going to work, but they refused.
“When they started throwing stones at us, we decided to use water cannons to disperse them,” he said, “but they moved forward and destroyed two fire trucks, although the drivers escaped.”
“The police decided to shoot two smoke bombs to break up the protesters, but unfortunately they did not explode.” He said no one was injured.
“The clash last about an hour and then they returned to their homes. The forces deployed for the protest were outnumbered by the workers.”
He said the authorities were hunting for the ringleaders.
Chea Oudom, a provincial officer for the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said the situation was quiet by 3:00 pm because the workers had gone home.
“I don’t know if any workers were injured in the clash or not because they quickly went home and we could not find them,” he said.
In a posting on its Facebook page, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) urged the protesting workers not to use violence.
“Please don’t use violence! Please don’t incite or threaten the majority of workers who want to work! Please don’t violate the rights to work of others!” it said. “Please look at your total take-home pay, rather than the minimum wage!”
It said anyone unhappy with their job and conditions could quit and find another profession.
“Nobody is able to force you to work. This is not the Pol Pot regime, so you have the full right to move to any other job you prefer,” the association’s posting read.
It was the second consecutive day of clashes between police and protesters. On Monday, police used four water cannons to break up the protest after clashes and arrested 58 workers – 36 of them women – before releasing them later with a warning not to use violence again.
Some unions urged the workers to return to work and negotiate peacefully over their demands.
Ou Sokhoeun, the provincial deputy director of the Labor Department, said police would be deployed again today in case of further violence.