Garment factory owners have been accused of attempting to cull union representatives and members from their workplaces under cover of widespread Covid-19 terminations, with one official even arrested after criticizing lay-offs.

The economic slowdowns in Europe and the U.S., which constitute the bulk of the market for Cambodia’s export-oriented garment industry, have caused many factories to temporarily suspend or outright terminate their workers.

But union leaders say some factory owners are targeting workers who have taken on roles organizing their colleagues — as well as those who are merely members of independent workers unions — in an effort to reduce unionized labor on the factory floor and intimidate others from organizing in future.

Kong Atith, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), which is the largest independent union in the country, pointed at two factories in Kandal province he said laid off dozens of union officials.