Six months after they last protested, about 40 former drivers for the Capitol Tours bus company demonstrated outside its head office in Phnom Penh on Wednesday demanding their jobs back after being sacked, they claim, for attempting to unionize.
Five drivers were fired in July, leading dozens of their colleagues to strike and join a series of protests in solidarity. On November 1, 35 more drivers were sacked after continuing attempts to organize a union, said Nin Kosal, deputy president of Cambodia Transportation Workers Federation (CTWF).
Reviewing the decisions, the Arbitration Council decided on December 7 that only three of the 40 sacked drivers should be reinstated, he said. Despite the mass dismissals, CTWF officially established a branch at Capitol Tours on November 27, he added.
Starting at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday, the drivers held banners, banged drums and shouted “injustice” outside the company’s office in Prampi Makara district, while around 15 district security guards and police, armed with riot shields and batons, prevented the drivers from entering the building.
“We are protesting to pressure the company to agree to give jobs back to drivers and stop discriminating against unions because our union has been approved by the Ministry of Labor,” Mr. Kosal said during Wednesday’s protest.
“Today, we only shout and share leaflets with the public, but soon we will share the information with Europe and let foreigners who use Capitol see how bad they are,” he said, adding that protests would continue today.
One of the fired drivers, Kong Bunthoeun, said the time had come for the group to make their problem public.
“We need to protest for everybody to get their jobs back,” he said. “We have been waiting for two months so we have to protest against the company because they fired us for no reason.”
Also lined up behind police were tuk-tuk drivers belonging to the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association, who were accused by the fired drivers of being paid to insight a brawl during a protest in July. However, there was no recurrence of the violence on Wednesday.
Phan Sopheap, general manager at Capitol Tours, accused the group of fired employees of sowing unrest and pocketing cash while driving across the country.
“The company already had a union and the union they created was an anarchic group; they always incited other drivers to hate the company. We can’t take them back if they are people we don’t trust because we care about passengers’ lives,” Mr. Sopheap said.
“We fired them because we found they were taking money from the company when they were driving. They were always picking up passengers on the way and keeping the money themselves, and when they would have an accident they would just escape,” he said.
Labor Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.