Workers from some 20 unions and workers’ associations gathered on Monday in central Phnom Penh to demand better working conditions and protections.
The peaceful march was met by more than 100 riot police equipped with shields, batons and smoke grenades who blocked the march to parliament, where protesters had planned to deliver a petition calling for a minimum annual salary of $3,000, claiming they were a threat to national security.
The petition also called for better social security and healthcare provision, a revision of the trade union law, and increased occupational safety protections.
Doak Sovann, a garment worker who was one of an estimated 1,000 attendees, said she had joined the march to demand better wages and conditions.
“Workers have not yet accessed working rights at their workplace and the factories do not respect workers rights,” she said. “Workers are still being threatened, especially the leaders of unions.”
Lawmakers from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party accepted the petition and ordered police to break up the march at about 11am.
Lork Kheng, a CPP spokeswoman, promised protesters that she would deliver the petition directly to Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly and the Prime Minister Hun Sen “to facilitate the development of our nation”.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said the official obstruction of the march was a restriction of freedom of expression and assembly and unconstitutional.
“I hope that parliament and the government will resolve the problem. If they don’t resolve the problem, support from workers will decrease. If they want to keep their seats in parliament, lawmakers, senators, the prime minister, and other authorities must resolve the problem,” he said.