The Cambodian Bar Association today is scheduled to review charges against a Cambodian-American lawyer who US labor officials have criticized for intimidating workers unions and who Prime Minister Hun Sen has said may threaten national interests.
Cambodian Bar Association President Ky Tech said Tuesday that lawyer David Chanaiwa is under investigation for alleged offenses of the lawyers’ code of conduct.
The investigation comes just two weeks after Hun Sen noted that Chanaiwa’s behavior could compromise US support for Cambodia’s accession to the World Trade Organization and its valuable garment quota.
“For lawyer David [Chanaiwa], please call him in and advise him to stop this activity because it involves the national interest. If there is no change, it is necessary to stop his activity,” Hun Sen wrote on June 4 at the bottom of a May 29 Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs letter addressed to the premier concerning the US’ opinion of Cambodia’s working conditions.
Minister of Labor Ith Sam Heng wrote the three-page report to Hun Sen detailing the results of his May 23 meeting with US Ambassador Charles Ray and George White, the director the US State Department’s Office of International Labor Affairs.
The report said the US recommended that Cambodia should investigate companies that have hired Chanaiwa to suppress union activities by filing lawsuits against union members without respecting the Labor Ministry’s legal process.
The US “had stressed that some working unions had reported that this lawyer [Chanaiwa] is very aggressive, intimidates workers and looks down upon Ministry of Labor officials for not enforcing their duties,” the report stated.
“According to the US recommendation, if the problem continues, it will affect the US [garment] quota to Cambodia,” the report said. Anti-union discrimination, led by Chanaiwa, also could compromise US support of Cambodia’s accession to the WTO, it added. The best scenario, the report said, would be for the government to completely stop Chanaiwa from continuing his practice.
Hun Sen’s written response to the report suggested that Council of Ministers’ general lawyer Kao Bun Hong help solve the problem with Chanaiwa.
Because Kao Bun Hong has no authority to punish Chanaiwa, he recommended that the bar association take action against Chanaiwa, said bar association advisory council member Puth Theavy. Ky Tech said Chanaiwa’s case would be reviewed by 20 advisory board members today, a review that likely would end in Chanaiwa’s disbarment for “unforgivable” acts.
Chanaiwa said Wednesday he never used the judicial system to intimidate workers, employing the courts only in cases not requiring a Labor Ministry investigation.
“There is no law in the Labor Law determining whether a strike is legal or not,” he said, adding that he would go through the ministry on arbitration cases but not other cases, such as unlawful strikes. He said he would continue to work in Cambodia even without bar association membership because he has done nothing wrong.
Labor Ministry spokesman Ker Soksidney said that complaints with union leaders must first be waged with the Ministry of Labor before landing in court.
“So he [Chanaiwa] takes a shortcut and goes straight to court,” he said.
Ray Chew, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said he could do nothing about Chanaiwa because managers may receive legal counsel from anyone they choose.
Although many unions waged complaints about Chanaiwa with White, only one union leader’s complaints have caused a disturbance over the issue.
National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia President Morm Nhim, who led the strike that ended in police gunfire June 13, said labor negotiations with Terratex Knitting and Garment International Factory Ltd manager Jimmy Sum were prolonged because he insisted Chanaiwa be present for the talks.
Throughout last week, Morm Nhim insisted that Chanaiwa would use his connection to high government officials to try to suppress union activities. She suggested Tuesday that Chanaiwa may have organized an extremist infiltration of her strike. Sum said this week that he would no longer refer to Chanaiwa for counsel.