March ’97 grenade victim now labor rights activist
October 14, 2007, 4:51 am
Filed under: Social Issues

March ’97 grenade victim now labor rights activist

by Moeun Chhean Nariddh


Her face turned grim as she recalled how grenade shrapnel struck her legs three years ago while she was holding a banner at a protest in front of the National Assembly on March 30, 1997.

“I thought that I wouldn’t have a future, that they would cut off my legs,” said 23-year-old garment factory worker Poeu Sinan.

Now, things have changed. Though scars and pieces of shrapnel are still in her legs, this brutality doesn’t seem to scare her away from doing what she did then. Sinan now finds herself in an active role to protect her rights and that of other workers.

Yesterday, March 30, marked the third anniversary when four hand grenades ripped through a crowd of then-Khmer Nation Party led demonstrators outside the National Assembly. Noone has been arrested for the massacre of up to 17 peaceful protesters.

In a raid which also wounded more than 100 other people, Sinan was one of the most seriously injured victims. Both of her legs were hit by the blast and one almost lost to amputation due to infections and poor treatment.

Though the wounds have healed, she still suffers from the scars and fragments that remain in her legs.

“When the weather is cold, it hurts,” she lamented, her hand feeling a corn-sized piece of shrapnel stinging out from her left calf.

Born in a poor farmer family in Kandal, Sinan needs to work to support herself and her family.

After several months of rehabilitation, Sinan regained her strength and could almost walk properly. She then tried to get a job at the Tor 8 garment factory she worked for three years ago in Takmao town, about 10km south of Phnom Penh.

“When I recovered I went back to the same factory, but they didn’t accept me,” she said.

Sinan’s story is similar to those workers who participated in the demonstration: their applications for a job were also rejected by other factories.

“When they heard we came from Tor 8, they wouldn’t accept us,” She complained. “They said we had a bad record of joining the demonstration.”

Like many other ex-colleagues, Sinan lied to the GRC garment factory she was asking for work 15 months ago. A worker named Phal Chantha sold her job to Sinan for 40,000 riels and went to another factory.

With her experience, she passed the two-month probation period required by the factory. Sinan said she then became a full privileged worker.

However, she could not endure the injustice the workers faced in the factory. Sinan and a few other workers stood up and provoked a protest to demand better treatment and conditions.

After a while, she said, the manager knew that she came from Tor 8 and was one of the protesters in front of the National Assembly. But Sinan or Chantha by her new name became so “well-known” the manager could not remove her.

With an agreement between the Ministry of Social Action, the factory and the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), Sinan was sent to three labor rights courses organized by the International Labor Organization.

“I learned [the laws], then I came to teach other workers,” she said with a smile. “Now we know how to protect our rights.”

Starting from a small group of members, about 400 of the 600 workers at GRC factory have become FTUWKC’s members. Early this month, Sinan was elected among 15 other workers as their representative “like the elections to choose MPs.”

“Now, before they sack anyone, the representatives go to negotiate with the manager,” she said.

Sinan reckoned that they have helped about 10 workers who would have been dismissed to get their jobs back. In general, according to Sinan, the conditions have become better off following their protests and the election of the workers’ representatives in her factory. She said they were working only eight hours a day and would be paid for extra work.

“In the past they used to pay us on the 10th [of the month],” she said. “Now they pay us on the 6th or 7th.”

Her wishes do not stop, though. Sinan said she and other workers will join FTUWKC’s mass demonstration at the National Stadium in May to demand an increase of their salary from $40 to $70 and other allowances.

However, many other factories don’t have the same fate and conditions. Sinan said the Tack Fat factory in Ta Kmao with the backing of “big men … hired soldiers” to crack down on the protesters.

She said one of the 100 workers from her factory broke his head when he tried to help protesters at Tack Fat factory to struggle with soldiers and policemen.

The story of factory owners buying support from the authority and workers’ representatives is not new.

Sinan said at the Tor 8 factory, the owner paid $1,500 for each of the workers representatives to resign their jobs after a wave of protests. But that could not stop more protests until the factory was closed during the coup in July 1997.

Sinan also smelled similar problems at her factory. The manager has given the photographs of the 15 workers’ representatives to the local authority for an unknown reason. She also noticed that the leader of the 15 representatives frequently goes out for dinner with the factory manager.

But, they’ve found a solution. Sinan said they requested at least five representatives be present at any negotiations with the factory manger “to avoid corruption.”

“We used to be afraid of the managers, but not now,” she said. “Now, there are lots of strikes.”

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 9/7, March 31 – April 13, 2000
© Michael Hayes, 2000. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief – Any comments on the website to Webmaster


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