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Thousands Strike Over Fired Union Leaders

Nearly 2,000 garment workers in Kandal province went on strike at one large factory Wednesday, demanding the return of eight fired union representatives.

The eight leaders, who represented the Free Trade Union, were fired after conflicts over memberships with leaders of a second union, the Khmer Youth Trade Union Alliance, Prum Kosal, a striking worker at Tai Yang Enterprise, told VOA Khmer by phone Wednesday.

"We must use our right to request the factory manager to allow the eight fired representatives to work normally," he said. "If not, we will hold more strikes."

The strike comes as Cambodia's garment industry is struggling under the global financial crisis, with many factories closing in the past few months and orders and revenues down.

At least 14 factories have closed down in Cambodia since the onset of the crisis, in September.

Sin Mom, another worker on strike, said the workers were not afraid of losing their jobs.

"We must use our freedom to fight the unjust firing of our representatives," she said from outside the factory Wednesday morning. "All the workers are standing and shouting in front of the factory to strike until we have the resolution."

The strike was to protect the representatives, she said, "because they struggle to protect our rights and our interests from violations from the factory manager."

Workers at the factory have difficulty receiving pay for overtime and want appropriate working conditions, she said.

Factory officials could not be reached for comment.

Kandal province's deputy governor, Cheav Tai, who attended talks between the sides on Wednesday, said negotiations had not yet reached a resolution. The factory side has so far refused to allow the return of the fired representatives.

Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said Wednesday the union could not tolerate the firings.

"Nineteen of my trade representatives in factories have been fired from the beginning of the year until now," he said.

Since 2004, 139 Free Trade representatives have been sacked from factories where they led workers.

The Free Trade Union is a powerful union with many factory workers as members. The former president of the union, Chea Vichea, was gunned down in 2004, after demonstrating an ability to amass giant demonstrations.

Chea Mony, who is Chea Vichea's brother, warned of mass demonstrations if the government did not take action against factories that fire representatives.