As membership and dues decline at the Free Trade Union, union president Chea Mony will resign six years after he stepped into the shoes of his brother, murdered union leader Chea Vichea.
Mr Mony said thursday that health issues, including lung problems, were his main impetus for leaving his position. He said he planned to support Cambodian Confederation of Unions President Rong Chhun to replace him in union elections on June 27.
“I don’t want to be the Free Trade Union president candidate because of my health problems and the large workload,” he said. “Free Trade Union is a big union. We need an experienced leader.”
For years the union has lost membership, which once stood at 80,000, he said. Although it is difficult to determine the precise number of FTU members, only about 24,000 workers currently pay dues, according to Mr Mony.
“We don’t have the budget. We are weak,” he said, adding that he does not have the same skills as his charismatic brother did.
“Compared to the former president, Chea Vichea, he was good at public communications and diplomacy, [but] I don’t speak the language,” he said.
Mr Chhun said he would run for the FTU post.
“If Chea Mony resigns from the position and he gives me the opportunity, I will help the unions. I will continue former Free Trade Union President Chea Vichea’s legacy and I will lead the unions,” he said. If elected he would attempt to merge his 9,000-member union with the FTU.
He pledged to reform unions at a particularly difficult time for the garment industry, which has suffered the brunt of the financial crisis in Cambodia.
Mr Chhun said he would focus on giving more power and providing more educational opportunities to union activists.
“We need to build up our membership, otherwise the government won’t be afraid of us,” he said.
Tola Moeun, a project coordinator with the legal aid organization Community Legal Education Center who works with the country’s unions, said that FTU and the union movement never recovered from Mr Vichea’s assassination, and that he hoped the election of a new FTU leader would distribute power more evenly among local representatives.
“After Chea Vichea, the FTU seems a bit weaker than when Chea Vichea was alive,” he said.
Although he called Mr Chhun a good candidate, he said he hoped workers would be able to choose from a variety of candidates with fresh ideas.
“It’s good that he will let the new generation stand for election,” he said of Mr Mony.
Mr Moeun agreed that one of the new leader’s most crucial tasks will be to build trust by giving workers more in return for their membership of the FTU. That includes more education and expanding collective bargaining, he said.
(Additional reporting by Tim Sturrock)