After Embezzlement Claims, Union Founder Wants Leaders Out

Union organizers want three senior leaders of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU) who are accused of embezzling money that was meant to be paid to workers in compensation following a dispute with factory owners to step down, former CCAWDU officials said Friday.

Former CCAWDU official Um Visal said Friday that garment workers want the union’s president, Ath Thorn, secretary-general, Kong Athit, and Ek Pheakdey, another union official, to leave their positions because they allegedly stole $92,929 from workers following an industrial dispute that was settled last year by the union.

Mr. Visal says that the CCAWDU leaders took a cut of the settlement before distributing the compensation to the workers involved in the dispute.

“More than 40 garment workers didn’t get their salaries because Ath Thorn, Kong Athit and Ek Pheakdey embezzled money to use for their personal lives,” Mr. Visal, the former policy officer and founder of CCAWDU, said Friday at a news conference.

“I do not support them. I want them out of CCAWDU. If they are not afraid, they should not have come to me to talk about corruption,” he added.

Mr. Visal, as well as another former CCAWDU official, Roeun Chanthan, filed a complaint with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on March 3 against the three senior members after the trio apparently offered higher salaries to Mr. Visal and Mr. Chanthan to keep the corruption under wraps.

According to the complaint, the settlement states workers received between $3,000 and $4,000 each, but in fact they claim to have received only between $1,250 and $2,700.

Chan Pov, leader of E Garment Factory, whose workers are part of CCAWDU, said his workers would leave the union if there is no solution.

“I regret they always deny this when we ask about the money…. When I call him [Mr. Thorn], he hangs up. He stops me from doing my work,” he said.

Duong Tola, a worker at E Garment Factory, said Mr. Thorn gave him only $1,250. “I tried to talk to Ath Thorn, but he said he does not have money to pay. He said he was going to ask the factory’s Chinese owners, but could give me only $1,250,” he said.

Mr. Thorn said Friday he would help the workers.

“Some garment workers say they aren’t going to be paid back yet, but why did they file a complaint? I always help them if they need money to feed their families,” he said.

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