Landmark Factory Union Ruling Overturned

The Appeals Court of Phnom Penh struck down a provincial court’s ruling on Thursday that a factory must rehire workers who had been trying to form a union —a ruling that labor activists had called a landmark at the time.

A three-judge panel ruled that the seven workers at Cambodia Apparel Industry Ltd in Kom­pong Speu province had been fired justifiably for repeated ab­sences without permission and failure to follow company rules.

The panel ordered only that the factory pay compensation of  between $32 and $40 per worker. The ruling, read by Judge Nguon Im, made no mention that the seven workers had been elected to a union committee about three months before their dismissal.

A Kompong Speu judge ruled in March that the factory must rehire the workers, pay each worker about two years in back pay and $1,000 in punitive damages. Inspectors from the Minis­try of Labor had earlier ordered the workers rehired.

Thursday’s ruling pleased neither side, with factory union acti­vists pledging to sue the judges, appeal the ruling and press for a strike at the factory next month. On the other side, factory mana­ger Robert Fu said his side might appeal as well: “We’re not going to pay anything.”

Labor observers said in March that the Kompong Speu ruling was the first time a judge had made any sort of ruling in a union organizing case.

At the hearing, factory representative Chea Key claimed the fired workers had been repeatedly absent, threatened or insulted managers and “incited” their fellow workers to stop work.

The workers said time sheets had been falsified and they had been marked absent on days when they were actually turned away because there was no work. They denied the other charges.

Union representative Lim Thyda claimed police held three workers overnight in prison for no clear reason shortly before they were fired.

Fu displayed a petition from 500 workers who he said did not want the factory to rehire the union representatives, who he called troublemakers.


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