Saying they are tired of waiting for the government to help them get their money back, more than 100 workers tried to take their protest directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen Tuesday morning.
The workers, all of whom say they were cheated out of deposits they paid for the right to work on projects related to the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, marched briefly in front of Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence on Sihanouk Boulevard.
Police moved in to stop them, and the protest broke up peacefully, Municipal Police Chief Sourn Chhengly said.
The chief said that while people have the right to express their points of view, demonstrating in front of a politician’s home is out of line.
“It is not the right place to hold the strike. That place is a prime minister’s residence; it is not the place where he works. I don’t think it’s a good idea to hold a strike there,” Sourn Chhengly said.
If the protest had continued in front of Hun Sen’s house, it would have embarrassed Cambodia in the eyes of foreign visitors, Chamkar Mon district Governor Kuch Chamreoun said.
Officials suggested the workers take their complaints to government offices such as the Council of Ministers or the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Kuch Chamreoun said.
But workers Tuesday said they had already exhausted their options as far as getting help from the government.
“We are not moving anywhere. We already went to the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Labor. None of them are strong enough to help us,” one worker said.
Officials have been ducking responsibility for the workers’ plight, he added. “They said only Prime Minister Hun Sen might help us,” the worker said.
The workers who demonstrated Tuesday were among more than 1,200 laborers who had applied to work in Greece as that country prepares to host the 2004 Olympics. Workers say they paid $500 deposits for the jobs, plus other expenses. The promised journey never materialized.
They have filed complaints against the Cambodia Consultant Association, demanding their deposits and passport money back.
Some of the workers say they face destitution if they do not receive some aid. Many workers claim to have borrowed money at high interest rates to pay the deposits and say they stand to lose everything.
“I have no chance to see my wife if I can’t take back the $500 from the company,” Kampot laborer Sak Sophearun said. The 35-year-old man claimed his mother-in-law threw him out of his home after he lost the deposit money.
Government documents reveal that the government has sided with the workers in the case, but workers say they have seen no action to show for it.
A CCA spokesman said the company still plans to employ the workers, but has encountered delays. Any workers who wish to cancel their contracts will get their money back, but they must be patient, Cambodia Consultant Association legal adviser Pok Yuthea said.
“CCA will give the money back,” he said. “The work process has just been slow, because passports for laborers were issued slowly, too. And this time in Greece, everyone is busy with the New Year, so the deal is delayed until early 2002.”