About 800 workers and union representatives who took part in last month’s garment sector strikes are still being denied permission to return to work, a union leader claimed yesterday.
“The companies didn’t allow the workers to return to work even though there was a speech from Prime Minister Hun Sen,” said Ath Thon, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation. “By law the companies have to not treat workers badly after a strike. We are waiting for the government to handle this problem for us.”
On Sept 29, Mr Hun Sen called for an end to all legal action against union representatives, adding his voice to similar requests made by the Minister of Social Affairs and the Council of Ministers.
But according to a statement released by the CLC yesterday, more than 800 workers were still being denied permission to return to work. One hundred forty-five union representatives from 16 factories were prevented from returning by court-issued orders, though a small portion of those have been able to go back to work since the strikes ended, the statement said.
Another 692 workers at 17 factories have been suspended without court orders, the statement claimed.
Sung Chung Men, a manager at the River Rich Textile factory in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, said that about 100 workers were currently suspended from the factory, all as a result of court orders.
“We are waiting for the court’s decision,” he said, adding he expected to hear from the court in the coming week.
He said the factory would accept the court’s decision and would not ask for any further action because the prime minister had made his wishes on the matter clear.
“I think we have no power to continue as Prime Minister Hun Sen has asked us,” he said, adding that if the court ruled that workers had not broken the law they would be welcome to return.
River Rich was granted a court injunction on Sept 16—the same day union leaders called off the strikes—declaring the strike at the factory illegal and ordering all workers to return within 48 hours, according to a copy of the injunction.
However, 24 union representatives were named as exceptions. Those 24 “shall be prohibited from resuming their works for a temporary period pending the court’s final decision on the merit of the case,” the order read.
One of those named was Phin Sophea. Speaking yesterday, Mr Sophea urged the court and the company to respect the premier’s request.
“According to the speech by [Prime Minister Hun Sen]…all companies need to stop suspending workers and drop lawsuits allowing workers to return. But the companies don’t respect it,” he said.
Union representatives have the right to appeal these orders within two weeks of their being filed. CLC Deputy President Ek Sokpheakdey said yesterday that the union had been filing appeals since Sept 24.
The union has filed appeals against injunctions granted to 16 factories, Mr Sokpheakdey said. Five injunctions—issued by courts in Phnom Penh, Takeo and Kompong Speu—have already been overturned, he said.
“The court understood the legality of the strikes,” he said.
However, Mr Sokpheakdey claimed injunctions were still in place in Kandal province, home to many of Cambodia’s largest garment factories and where most of CLC’s support is based.
Judge In Van Vibol, president of Kandal Provincial Court, said yesterday he had received objections to three injunctions and would make his ruling on them today.
“I will finish the trial and announce” today, he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that although the premier had voiced his opinion, it should be up to the courts to decide how to proceed.
He said it would be possible for courts to withdraw legal action against workers while maintaining their independence.
“If the judge says that the strike is legal, the independence of the court will not be affected when the judge decides to drop the lawsuit,” he said.