Chea Mony Vows to Step Down as Union Chief

After 11 years as president of the Free Trade Union (FTU), Chea Mony said Sunday that he would not seek re-election as head of one of the country’s largest unions, which launched Cambodia’s labor movement nearly two decades ago.

Mr. Mony announced his decision at the FTU’s Phnom Penh headquarters Sunday morning to 141 union members representing 60 factories in five provinces.

“I will not stand for president anymore because the rules clearly state that the president can serve two [three-year] terms,” Mr. Mony said by telephone Sunday evening.

“I have stood as president for 11 years already, and this is against the rules.”

Mr. Mony was overwhelmingly elected president of the FTU in 2004, about six months after Chea Vichea, his brother and the union’s founder, was assassinated in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Mony said Sunday that he chose not to step down after his second term ended in 2010 because the FTU was involved in widespread strikes at the time, and was in the government’s crosshairs.

“I continued my mandate because at the time there was a lot of fighting and striking, and members also submitted a petition to request that I continue leading,” he said.

“That time was also a tense time with the government,” he added. “If we had been careless, they would have destroyed [the FTU].”

Mr. Mony said he did not know when the union’s next election might be held.

When Mr. Mony was first voted in as head of the FTU, the union boasted about 80,000 members. But in recent years, its membership—and reputation—has diminished.

Late last year, three former FTU officials who now head their own unions—Far Saly, Yaing Sophorn and Pav Sina—accused Mr. Mony of using the union to enrich himself and his closest associates.

On Sunday, Mr. Mony argued that his union was still a powerful force in the labor movement.

“They said my union was weak, especially those who left my union,” he said. “But our activities are as strong as before.”

“Other unions cannot compare to us,” he added.

In an interview earlier this month, Mr. Mony said that running the FTU had become a “headache” and that he was now spending much of his time brokering land deals for foreign investors looking to set up factories.

Sunday’s announcement was not the first time Mr. Mony has said he would relinquish his position atop the country’s oldest union.

In May 2010, he said he would step down as president due to health issues and pledged his support for Rong Chhun, a close friend and a longtime labor leader who is now a National Election Committee member.

But in June that year, Mr. Mony decided to run after all, and for the third time won the presidency.

Ban Thara, head of the FTU at the TGM BN garment factory in Phnom Penh, said Mr. Mony told unionists at Sunday’s gathering that he would not run in order to give younger members a chance to lead.

“Mr. Chea Mony said, ‘I will not stand for president for the next term and I will give the opportunity to the younger generation,’” Mr. Thara said.

According to Man Seng Hak, one of Mr. Mony’s deputies, the FTU president also told attendees that he was not proud that he had flouted union rules to remain president.

“He said he felt ashamed about being in his position for too long, and he wanted the board of directors to hold an election to find a new leader.”

Lay Sokha, deputy president of the FTU’s chapter at the SH International garment factory in Phnom Penh, said she was concerned about the union’s future.

“I am worried that the next leaders will not take a stand like him and won’t be just,” she said. “Soldiers depend on their commander. If the commander is strong, the soldiers will be stronger.”

However, Moeun Tola, who heads the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, said the FTU’s structure would still allow it to continue functioning effectively.

“I don’t think the FTU will become weaker when Chea Mony stops leading,” he said. “The important thing is the system. It does not depend on one individual; the decisions depend on the members.”

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