As Union Bosses Face Charges, Wage Campaign Rolls On

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday will question the second in a list of union leaders accused of playing a criminal role in garment sector protests in December and January, only days after the court placed unionist Pav Sina under judicial supervision for his alleged role in the events.

Mr. Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, was placed under judicial supervision on Friday, barring him from joining any public gatherings. He is one of at least five union leaders accused of fueling the protests, which ended on January 3, after military police fatally shot at least five garment workers on Veng Sreng Street in Phnom Penh.

On Monday, the court will question Free Trade Union president Chea Mony.

“Me and my lawyer will appear at the court at 2:30 [p.m.] and I am not concerned about my safety because I was not involved in the Veng Sreng incident and at the time I was at my office,” he said Sunday.

“If the court puts me under supervision I will file an appeal because it would not be fair.”

The court was also scheduled to question union leader Ath Thorn on Monday about allegations that he embezzled $93,000 after his union settled a labor dispute with the E Garment Factory last year. However, Mr. Thorn’s lawyer, Kim Socheat, said his client had requested a delay because he was busy with other work.

Mr. Thorn is also one of the union leaders charged in connection with the December and January garment protests and is scheduled to be questioned in that case on Thursday.

The sudden spate of court dates for the union leaders come just as negotiations between the unions, factories and government over a new monthly minimum wage for the garment sector, currently set at $100, enter the final stretch.

The government and factories, represented by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), want the wage raised by $10. The unions are gearing up for a nationwide campaign to push for a new minimum wage of $177 and say the court dates are meant to distract and intimidate them.

Even so, the unions say their plans are moving forward.

Kong Athit, vice president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said they had printed 3,000 shirts and 50,000 stickers emblazoned with their wage demand. They plan to print another 2,000 shirts and 50,000 stickers in the coming days.

“On the 17th, during the lunch break, our activists and workers will wear the shirts and stickers and they will speak about GMAC’s plan to increase their wages by $10 and about their own demands,” Mr. Athit said.

In a global day of action, three international unions are also planning to show their solidarity with the country’s garment workers through protests on September 17 at Cambodian embassies in Australia, Canada, the U.S. and around Europe.

Mr. Mony said his own union would not be joining the campaign for a $177 wage but declined to explain why.

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