A Council of Ministers official said Saturday he would look into the possibility of suing union leaders if they continue to campaign for an increase to the recently announced minimum wage in the garment sector.
Pa Angtoni, a member of the Jurists Council of the Council of Ministers, said during a discussion on government-owned television channel TVK that he would see if legal action could be taken against union leaders in order to prevent further labor actions.
“Once [union leaders] hold a strike it will affect the garment industry and the public interest. So we are considering taking legal action through the court on the basis of incitement,” he said, without explaining what illegal acts union leaders could incite workers to commit.
“On behalf of the [inter-ministerial] labor dispute resolving committee and the Jurists Council… we will investigate and consider the possibilities of a lawsuit,” he said.
Mr Angtoni made his remarks during a discussion with a representative of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, a Ministry of Labor official and two members of CPP-affiliated unions. He could not be reached for comment yesterday.
During the hour-long discussion, panel members took turns criticizing the unions for campaigning for a higher wage.
Council of Ministers’ spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said he was unaware of Mr Angtoni’s remarks and referred questions back to the official.
Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, said he had seen the broadcast and considered the remarks a direct government threat to himself, as he is one of the main union leaders campaigning for a wage increase.
“If he spoke on behalf of Council of Ministers, he represents the government. It is a threat and a ban on the freedom of expression,” said Mr Thorn, who is also the president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation.
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, also said the remarks amounted to threatening the unions.
“This is a kind of threat,” Mr Tola said, adding, “If the government will really [sue union leaders], it will violate people’s right to freedom of expression and rights for collective bargaining.”
On Tuesday the CLC led a group of 12 unions to write to the Labor Ministry and GMAC, calling for a minimum wage for garment workers of between $73 and $95 per month. The Labor Advisory Committee last month raised Cambodia’s minimum wage $5 to $61, but many garment workers have expressed unhappiness at this figure.
(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)