About 50 current employees of the Phnom Penh Sorya Transportation company staged a counterprotest Tuesday outside their office against an ongoing picket by 17 sacked bus drivers and dozens of union members.
On Sunday, more than 100 unionists joined the former drivers’ protest, blocked the road in front of the Sorya bus station in Daun Penh district and prevented buses from leaving, causing angry tourists to disembark and seek alternate transport.
On Tuesday, some 50 Sorya employees, pumping dance music through a sound system, squared off against the unionists’ megaphones to counter the disgruntled former drivers’ demand to be rehired.
“Go away! Go away! We don’t want you here. If you cause the company problems, then you cause all of us problems, too,” a female Sorya worker chanted to the cheers of her colleagues while the opposing protesters across the road bellowed their own rallying calls.
It was a rap-battle of demands and counterdemands that a handful of bemused backpackers waiting for buses mistook for a party, despite the presence of a dozen municipal police officers.
“I had no idea what was going on, it seems more like a celebration than a protest,” said 28-year-old Lynn Devlin from Ireland, who was still waiting for the 11 a.m. bus to Sihanoukville at 12 p.m.
Laksh Khatter, a 33-year-old Canadian, said he thought the music and banter were part of a promotional event organized by Sorya.
“I assumed it was a promo event but I asked the staff at the ticket office five times what was going on, [but] no one is saying anything,” he said.
Unionists handed out fliers to passersby and the few passengers they could find, entreating their solidarity with the drivers, who were fired for striking over working conditions and attempting to form a union.
Sheila Grasso, a 23-year-old volunteer waiting for a 1:30 p.m. bus to Siem Reap, said she appreciated the concerns of the dismissed workers but would not boycott Sorya as a result.
“I am interested in their situation, but it won’t stop me getting on the bus,” Ms. Grasso said.
But according to the company’s general manager, Chan Sophanna, the protesters are successfully driving away large numbers of passengers.
“Today, we had to cancel 40 percent of our buses because of a lack of passengers. We sincerely apologize to all our customers for delays or disruptions to the service caused by these protests,” he said.
Mr. Sophanna said that since April the protests have cost the company $70,000 to $80,000 per month in lost profits, and that if they continue the company will be forced to close.
Despite this, he said the company would not accept the Arbitration Council’s nonbinding ruling on the case to rehire the drivers.
“The board of directors will never agree to rehire the former drivers, but we are appealing for them to stop protesting and we will give them their full severance pay,” he said.
“If they do not, we will have to close and sell all of our buses to pay for the severance of the 450 staff members who are still working here. We hope that all of the former drivers understand this point.”