About 300 workers protested Monday in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in support of union leader Ath Thorn as a rival, but much smaller, group of workers from the same union rallied against their embattled president.
The court was scheduled to question Mr. Thorn over accusations that he and two other leaders of the Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) embezzled $92,929 from union members, but delayed the meeting after Mr. Thorn promised to call more than 1,000 workers to demonstrate outside the court.
“The court invited us [for questioning] but we were informed that it is delayed without any reason being provided and with no date specified for next time,” said Mr. Thorn.
Mr. Thorn, along with his deputy president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Pheakdey, have denied the allegation that they embezzled money from workers after reaching a settlement with E Garment Factory in 2008.
However, Oum Visal and Roeung Chanthorn, founding board members of CCAWDU, who cooperated with workers to file the complaint against the three leaders, say they want a court injunction demanding that the leaders step down.
The injunction, filed April 1, requests that the court appoint Mr. Visal and Mr. Chanthorn as the union’s leaders until an election takes place.
“Since the current leaders of CCAWDU…are involved in the embezzlement of workers’ money…we do this in order to avoid any disorder and to restore credibility among workers,” reads the injunction.
Siang Yot, CCAWDU’s legal officer, said he was concerned that Mr. Visal and Mr. Chanthorn were working with the government in an effort to weaken CCAWDU, the country’s largest independent union, which has been at the forefront of minimum wage strikes in recent months.
“The government or court intends to suspend, close or dissolve the CCAWDU institution,” he said. “We cannot accept this and we are protesting to protect CCAWDU and will keep fighting to increase [workers’] income.”
In a separate case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court questioned seven women from the Borei Keila community Monday after they filed a complaint against local authorities for using violence against protesters last month.
Some of the seven women said the court asked for additional evidence.
“The court asked me if I want to keep the same complaint or if I want to file more complaints,” said former Borei Keila resident Hash Sokchanda, 35.
“I answered that I want to keep my complaint. The court allowed me to give a thumbprint on a new document and asked me to bring evidence that authorities used violence when I come to the court next time.”