July 27 (Reuters) – At least nine female garment workers were injured on Tuesday in clashes with Cambodian riot police who used shields and electric shock batons to try to end a week-long strike over the suspension of a local union official.
More than 100 police, at least 50 in riot gear and carrying assault rifles, tried to force an estimated 3,000 female workers back into their factory, pushing several to the ground and stunning them with batons, a Reuters witness said.
The clashes were the latest setback for an industry that was badly hurt by the global economic slump from 2008 and more recently has been plagued by strikes over low pay and working conditions.
The factory on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh, is owned by a Malaysian firm and produces garments for companies including Gap (GPS.N), Benetton (BNG.MI), Adidas (ADSG.DE) and Puma (PUMG.DE).
Srey Kimheng, a secretary-general of the Free Trade Union (FTU), told Reuters at least nine workers were injured when police with a court order tried to clear roads and force them back to work.
The demonstration was brought to an end, and union leaders were talking to the workers about calling off their action aimed at forcing the company to give the union official his job back.
Local police chief Mok Hong insisted there had been no injuries and told Reuters the operation had gone smoothly.
The sector, Cambodia’s number three currency earner behind agriculture and tourism, shed almost 30,000 jobs in 2009 after a drop in sales to the United States and Europe.
Industry data showed the country exported garments, textiles and shoes to the value of $2.3 billion last year, down from $2.9 billion in 2008. More than half go to the United States.
An estimated 300,000 of Cambodia’s 13.4 million people work in the garment manufacturing sector and send vital cash to impoverished rural villages where many people live on less than $1 a day. (Additional reporting by Chor Sokunthea; Editing by Martin Petty)