100 Factories Suing Unions Behind Strike

More than 100 factories have now filed lawsuits against the six trade unions behind recent strikes for higher garment worker wages, and a lawyer representing garment manufacturers said Thursday that more suits are likely to come.

The factories accuse the six non-government aligned unions of inciting the protests, which occasionally turned violent and inflicted some damage on their properties. The unions have all denied the accusation and in turn accuse security forces of using excessive force against protesters, killing at least five and injuring 42 demonstrators last week.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court chief clerk Prak Savouth said he has received a slew of complaints since Monday from Khieu Sambo, a lawyer for the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents most of the 500-plus shoe and garment factories in the country.

“He [Mr. Sambo] told me that he will bring more complaints to the court in the next few days,” Mr. Savouth said.

Mr. Sambo said the leaders of the unions had to be held to account for the damage done to the factories, but declined to put a value on the damage or specify how much the factories were asking for in compensation.

“We need these people to be responsible for the incitement and for the destruction of the factory properties, and we demand compensation,” he said.

“We have received more than 100 complaints and we have already filed them with the court,” he added. “I hope the complaints will increase to 200 or more in the next few days.”

The court says it has so far summonsed two of the union leaders for questioning on Tuesday: Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, and Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions.

Two of the six unions could not be reached Thursday. The rest said they had not yet received any summons from the court.

“I have not yet received the complaint, but I will go if the court summons me to give an explanation,” said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.

“I am not scared about being arrested because thousands of workers will stand up to protest because they support my union,” he said. “Thousands of workers are prepared to protest against the authorities and GMAC if the union leaders are arrested, and they will resist until they die even though the authorities use violence.”

Mr. Sina said he had also heard from his union’s branch office in Bavet City, in Svay Rieng province, that about 20 local police were recently deployed outside the building in an apparent attempt to discourage people from gathering there or seeking the union’s help. Bavet City deputy police chief Kao Horn said he knew nothing about such a deployment.

Chheng Lang, vice president of the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions in Cambodia, said her union had received no suits or summonses from the court either, but had made preparations.

“We have already prepared a lawyer to defend us against the lawsuit even though we have not yet received a court order,” she said.

Though the majority of the country’s 600,000 garment workers are back on the job following the strikes, the unions have vowed to resume their protests if the government and factories continue to refuse their demand for raising of the industry’s monthly minimum wage to $160.

With the factories now in the process of paying out last month’s wages, GMAC on Thursday also sent the Labor Ministry a letter to complain about unions demanding that workers be paid their full wages for the days they spent on strike. It asks the ministry to issue a notification explaining that the law does not oblige factories to pay for those days.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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