Over the past six months, 40 drivers for the Capitol Tours bus company have been fired while attempting to organize a local branch of the nascent Cambodia Transportation Workers Federation (CTWF).
The drivers have made their grievances public during the past two weeks, staging protests outside the company’s headquarters in central Phnom Penh to demand their jobs back after 35 drivers were fired in November.
Although the CTWF finally received recognition from the Ministry of Labor on November 27, Capitol Tours—denying claims of union busting—now says that there is a different union representing its staff that was also registered in November.
The union’s founder and president, Mang Meng, also happens to be the manager of the company’s branch in Siem Reap province.
“We created a union within Capitol because we want to solve problems for the drivers or staff, and we are not created by the company,” said Mr. Meng, who heads the Drivers and Employee Union.
Mr. Meng denied that the union was set up to counteract efforts to organize a local branch of the CTWF, an independent union affiliated with the Cambodian Labor Confederation (CLC), explaining that the union has been in the works for two years.
“We can operate the union at Capitol because we have 400 [members] supporting us and our union is successful in negotiating everything with the company,” he said, declining to provide any documentation supporting his claims.
CTWF deputy president Nin Kosal said the rival union was a blatant attempt to complicate efforts to set up an independent union.
“If the company was strong, they would accept our union in Capitol. But it is their intention to create another union to be against us and criticize the drivers,” he said.
Mr. Meng’s claim of being independent from the company, Mr. Kosal said, “is just nonsense.”
Phan Sopheap, general manager of Capitol, was effusive when asked about Mr. Meng’s union.
“We support them because they have intentions to help the staff,” he said, adding that the CLC did not truly represent its members.
“I want to clarify that Capitol did not fire [the 40 drivers] for creating a union, but they should understand that the Cambodian Labor Confederation is using drivers for the union’s benefit,” Mr. Sopheap said.
He added, however, that the recently fired drivers would likely still be on the job if they hadn’t joined protests in support of five drivers who were fired in July.
“If the more than 30 drivers didn’t decide to join with the five fired [drivers], they would still be working,” he said.