Members of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia handed President Chea Vichea a landslide victory for a second two-year term in union elections Sunday, choosing him from a field of six candidates.
“I’ve become your slave again because I’m president,” Chea Vichea said in his acceptance speech. “I have to serve all of your needs.”
The victory means a continuation of the union’s stated goals of seeking a 44-hour work week and minimum pay of $47 a month for its members, issues that led to protests against factory owners last year.
Chea Vichea also pledged to protect union members’ jobs, create a pension system for retirement, develop more training for workers and union organizers and seek the creation of a labor court to handle union complaints. The complaints are currently heard in civil court, which Chea Vichea called ineffective.
“They don’t care about the poor people, the workers,” he said of the court’s judges.
The election comes nearly a year after a strike and protests that saw a strengthening of the union’s political power; factory owners agreed to a $5 a month raise—from $40 to $45.
A further raise of $2 a month is supposed to be granted Aug 1, but Chea Vichea said he is concerned that factory owners will back out of the agreement.
Workers complain that factories sometimes withhold a $5 per month bonus for perfect attendance and a 1,000 riel food allowance for every two hours of overtime worked, issues that Chea Vichea said he would pursue.
Chea Vichea said the union continues to investigate arbitrary dismissals of its members from their jobs, which he believes are retaliation for the union’s demands. Twenty union members have been fired so far this year, he said.
In literature distributed at the meeting, the union claimed it had collected $5,046 from members over the past two years. The union also received donations of $7,856 from NGOs.
Nearly 700 delegates at Sunday’s elections gave 541 votes to Chea Vichea and 113 for his nearest challenger, Kim Chan Samnang. The other four candidates, including two factory workers, received 19 votes combined.
After he was re-elected president, Chea Vichea chose Yang Sopaorn as his vice president and Som Somneang as general secretary, replacing his former officers Oum Navy and Kim Chan Samnang. Kim Chan Samnang was then appointed treasurer.
Chea Vichea said the changes were necessary to reform and strengthen the union.
The Free Trade Union of Cambodia represents 8,000 garment factory workers at 33 factories in Cambodia. Some 200 garment factories in Cambodia employ close to 100,000 workers, according to union officials.