An extortion lawsuit against five union leaders of a garment factory in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district has apparently pitted the powerful CPP-backed Cambodian Union Federation and the International Labor Organization against Funcinpec’s co-Minister of Defense Nhiek Bun Chhay.
CUF President Chuon Mom Thol on Tuesday threatened to call a general strike in 180 garment factories if the Maurea Garment factory does not drop its lawsuit against five members of the Federal Union of Solidarity.
Union officials Nai Sok Veasna, Ly Sofy, Chan Serey, Sun Chan Dara and Lun Sitha will be questioned by the Municipal Court on Thursday for allegedly extorting $1,000 from the factory in exchange for promises not to take strike action.
The accused union leaders claim that the factory’s manager gave them the money in order to hold a party for workers—when they received the cash, they were accused of extortion.
“If Mr Nai Sok Veasna is charged, 12 unions will hold huge strikes throughout the whole country,” Chuon Mom Thol said, adding that his Federation has 200,000 members.
He also criticized and questioned the presence at the factory of Deputy Prime Minister and co-Minister of Defense Nhiek Bun Chhay who, union leaders said, supervised the nonviolent breakup of a May 4 strike at the factory.
“The presence of Nhiek Bun Chhay intimidated the spirits and the rights of the workers,” he said.
ILO Project Manager Nuon Rithy said Tuesday that accusing the union leaders of extortion was a “violation of labor conventions.”
“[The factory] gave the money but they have the intention already to set a trap,” he said.
Thou Chhai Kieng, Maurea’s general manager, referred all questions about the lawsuit to Nhiek Bun Chhay on Tuesday, saying “he is the one who brought the investors to Cambodia.”
He said that the lawsuit was brought because union leaders continually demanded money from the factory. “We are tired of giving the money,” he said.
Factory lawyer Mong Mony said that the lawsuit will proceed despite the CUF’s threats to hold a general strike.
On Tuesday, Labor Minister Nhep Bunchin and Nhiek Bun Chhay met with workers at the factory.
“[Nhiek Bun Chhay] went there to have a chat with the workers,” Labor Ministry Secretary of State Oum Mean said. “He talked about the government’s policy on labor. He told the workers to be united with the government so that many investors can come and they can have jobs.”
Oum Mean said he had no idea why the co-minister of defense was involved in the case.
Nhep Bunchin said he was too busy to comment on the case Tuesday. Calls to Nhiek Bun Chhay were unsuccessful.