Factory’s Two Unions Fight

Controversy surrounding the rules of a union election at the Trinunggal Komara Garment In­dustry Co Ltd prompted members of two competing unions to break into a scuffle Friday and inspired one union’s representatives to threaten union observers with violence, labor officials said Sunday.

Workers at the Russei Keo district factory, represented by the Cambodian Union Federation and the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, were scheduled to elect a factory steward Saturday from a list of candidates that included only members of the CUF, the larger of the two unions, said International Labor Organization chief technical adviser Lejo Sibbel.

But on Friday, Free Trade Un­ion members called the election unfair and attempted to distribute fliers urging workers to boycott the vote.

An intermittent scuffle lasting about 10 minutes broke out between a small group of CUF and Free Trade Union workers, Sibbel said. Tension arose when CUF members ripped Free Trade Union fliers from workers’ hands.

Jason Judd, American Center for International Labor Solidarity country representative, said CUF President Choun Mom Thol tried to confiscate his camera while other union representatives jostled Free Trade Union country liaison George Mcleod and tried to snatch his camera.

Choun Mom Thol was not available for comment, but Kaban Chan Lymony, the factory’s CUF branch president, acknowledged that CUF members tried to seize the observers’ cameras.

Kaban Chan Lymony said the election was fair according to Pra­kas 305 of the Labor Law, which states that only the most representative union may negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

However, Judd said the issue was not collective bargaining but the election of a steward. Accord­ing to Article 278 of the Labor Law, he said, anyone can run for steward, regardless of union affiliation.

Sibbel said the law isn’t entirely clear and will need to be scrutinized jointly by the ILO and the Ministry of Labor to solve future problems that may erupt from similar misunderstandings.

“Regardless of what happened or who was responsible, it’s never a good thing when violence and intimidation occur,” Sibbel said.

Free Trade Union President Chea Vichea said his union would appeal to the factory’s US-based buyer, Gap, to help overturn the results and would appeal to the ILO to cease recognition of the CUF as a legitimate union.

He said he appealed earlier in the week to both the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and the factory management to postpone the election until the law could be clarified. The ministry turned him down, he said, and referred him to the section in the labor law concerning collective bargaining.

Thach Sann, a Min­ister of Labor adviser, would not comment on the incident.

(Addi­tional reporting by Kuch Naren and Yun Samean)

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