Six drivers of workers at the Manhattan and Tai Seng Special Economic Zones in Bavet Town, Svay Rieng, have been arrested over the last two days after a week of protests that shut businesses down, with human rights and union officials saying the charges against them are unclear.
Nuth Bopinnaroath, the Svay Rieng provincial coordinator for human rights group Licadho, said yesterday that five were arrested on Wednesday and another yesterday.
“They were sent to the court for questioning this morning, but they have sent them back to detention at the provincial police station to continue the questioning further tomorrow,” he said.
Mr. Bophinnaroath said that nobody knew why the police had arrested them, but he suspected it was because they had driven the workers to the protests, or that they had also joined in the protest.
“I was surprised to find out that more people were arrested while everything had nearly returned to normal, and I am worried that the anger of the workers will come back and they might hold the protest again tomorrow [Friday] when they hear their drivers were arrested,” he added.
Mr. Nuth Bopinnaroath said that the four workers who were arrested on Friday last week and charged with damage, violence and incitement to commit crimes have not yet been released.
Khuth Sokhum, a coordinator for Cambodian Labor Confederation, also confirmed the six arrests but was unsure of the reasons for the arrests.
He said that the arrested are Keo Bros, 30, Lek Vichet, 29, Pen Sambath, 28, Sos Yeth, Teav Phalla and Ouk Phally.
“I think these arrests are a threat to the workers and the truck drivers, and it can make their anger stronger and stronger to the point that we cannot control them,” Mr. Sokhum said.
Keong Khorn, the Svay Rieng provincial police chief, hung up when Khmer Times called for comment.
The Bavet Town SEZs have been roiled by protests since December 16, when tens of thousands of workers began protesting the upcoming $12 wage hike, which they say is too low. The strikes, which have shut down the business zones for days, grew violent at times, with protesters throwing rocks and wooden sticks at police.
Srey Makara, 29, the wife of one of the arrested drivers, said yesterday while waiting to meet her husband in front of the provincial police station that several police officials went down to her house and called for her husband.
“They arrived at my house on Wednesday and they looked for my husband. They told me that they want my husband to come with them to a meeting at the police station and then my husband agreed to go with them,” she said.
She said that she had no idea what he had done to be arrested.
Ou Sokhoeun, deputy chief of the provincial labor department, said yesterday that he was not aware of the arrests.
He said that factory workers are expected to come back to work today, but police officials will be deployed in case of another protest.
On Wednesday, provincial police chief Keong Khorn went to workers’ homes to explain to them the bad affects of the strikes and to ask them to stop resorting to violence.
“The authorities will help to protect them if they want to do a non-violent strike or protest, and they have to select a representative to help them to find a resolution for their demands with the employers or factories through the Labor Law,” Mr. Khorn wrote in a provincial police report.
He said that if the workers continued to protest violently and to damage state or company property, the police will take action against them through the law.
“Doing a violent strike or riot is a factor that causes investors to face closing their factories and the investors will consider changing their investments to other countries, so our workers will face joblessness,” Mr. Khorn wrote.
The violence and turmoil in Bavet come as the government and opposition set up a joint commission to review a controversial draft union law that has angered employers and unions alike, as well as rights groups.
The unions say the proposed law, already several years in the making and redrafted frequently, take away hard-earned rights.
Employer groups say the draft makes it harder for companies to deal with industrial unrest.