A Cambodian court on Wednesday charged eight labor activists with inciting violence and destroying property following clashes between rival unions at a factory making clothing for the U.S. sportswear company Nike.
Several thousand garment workers protested outside the Kampong Speu provincial court in southern Cambodia as the eight remained in detention after they were charged.
The eight were arrested on Monday after police suppressed a riot by up to 4,000 workers at the Sabrina plant, just west of Phnom Penh.
The violence followed clashes between two unions—the Cambodian Garment Workers Union (CGWU), which had urged an end to the strike at Sabrina, and the Free Trade Union of Cambodia, which had argued that the strike be allowed to continue.
Kompong Speu Court Director Khlok Pich said the eight union activists faced two charges—“intentionally inciting to cause violence and initiating damages against the factory.”
He said the demonstrations outside the court did not impact the hearing.
FTU spokesman Pich Ponnray told RFA's Khmer Service that the workers had gathered in the hope that the court would free their representatives.
“The workers want the union members to be released and allowed to return to work,” he said.
About 100 riot police were at the scene but there were no clashes.
Khlok Pich said it was up to the court to decide if the unions want to seek bail for their representatives.
FTU lawyer Kuch Ratha said he would press for bail for the union members.
Around a half million people work in Cambodia’s garment industry, which earns some U.S. $4.6 billion a year producing goods for Western clothing firms.
The garment industry is Cambodia’s third-largest currency earner, but workers often work long shifts for little pay, trade unions complain.
In March the Cambodian government announced a higher minimum wage of U.S. $80 per month from U.S. $61 for garment and footwear workers, but unions had originally demanded U.S. $120.
Reported by Tep Soravy for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.