Dispute Between Capitol, Drivers Rolls On

The long and occasionally bloody saga between Capitol Tours and its former drivers continued on Wednesday, as the two sides were summoned to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as part of a civil case brought by the travel company.

Twenty-seven former Capitol drivers appeared at the courthouse on Wednesday to negotiate with the company, which is demanding $20,000 in damages from each driver—an amount that confounded one of the former employees.

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Former drivers for Capitol Tours stand outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday ahead of a hearing related to a lawsuit brought by their former employer. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“How can I get $20,000?” asked Nou Pov, a 45-year-old driver who was fired in 2015. “I don’t even have money for food.”

The hearing was the latest episode in a two-year dispute that has seen protests outside of Capitol bus stations and beatings of protesters by other union members.

It began in July 2015, when five Capitol drivers were fired after attempting to organize a union for their colleagues. Their dismissal sparked protests from other drivers, leading to an additional 35 employees being fired in November that year.

The dispute reached a bloody climax in February last year, when more than 14 people were injured as helmeted, weapon-wielding members of a separate tuk-tuk drivers’ union descended upon the protesting Capitol employees while police looked on.

Drivers at the time accused Capitol of hiring the tuk-tuk drivers to do its dirty work, a claim the company denied. Rights group Licadho said police allowed the violence to occur.

On Wednesday, 33 former drivers were summoned to court as part of Capitol’s civil complaint against the employees, though only 27 drivers appeared, according to Capitol’s lawyer, Khieu Van.

Mr. Van said the $20,000 sought from each driver was reasonable compensation for the harm to the company’s profits and reputation, as the workers had violated company policy by stopping along their routes to pick up passengers and goods for extra money.

That claim was rebutted by Mr. Pov, who said the company’s case was motivated by resentment toward the drivers over their support for their fired colleagues two years ago and their subsequent attempts to form a union.

Wednesday’s civil hearing failed to find any common ground between the two sides. “There is nothing to agree on,” Mr. Van told reporters.

Mr. Pov said drivers were only asking to be reinstated to their jobs and did not require any additional compensation or concessions.

If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the case will be decided by Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Heng Kesro, though no deadline for a decision was set.


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