Ratanakkiri provincial authorities met Monday with the head of the Ministry of Agriculture’s rubber director to discuss how they plan to disband the solidarity groups that run a large swath of the province’s rubber plantations, officials said.
Provincial Deputy Governor Chey Sayoeun said by telephone that officials met with Agriculture Ministry rubber department director Ly Phalla to discuss the implementation of a 2007 ministry directive to eliminate the groups.
The remnants of workers collectives from the 1980s, the province’s 34 solidarity groups currently operate 1,300 hectares of state-owned rubber plantations but are legally required to sell the resin they collect to the Tai Seng Rubber Co.
Chey Sayoeun said a representative of the Tai Seng Co was present at Monday’s meeting.
“We will discuss with the [Tai Seng] Company, to select the villages one by one to inform the workers about the disbanding of the [solidarity] groups,” he said, adding that they will explain to the workers that they will still be able to work at the plantations.
“[The workers] will get more income from their jobs, as previously they got only 50 percent or under” of the market price for their resin, Chey Sayoeun said.
At present the groups are controlled by middlemen who purchased the right to control the groups.
Workers are required to sell their resin to the group chiefs, who in turn sell it to Tai Seng. Once disbanded, the workers could sell directly to Tai Seng for more money, according to Chey Sayoeun.
Solidarity group chiefs representative Chhe Chan denounced the Monday meeting for not inviting any representatives from the groups.
“If the government disbands the solidarity groups it will affect seriously the living standards of the villagers,” he said, adding: “We looked after the rubber plantations since they were small; why does [the ministry] want to disband us now when they are big and good.”
Chhe Chan added that he and 40 other representatives had submitted a petition to the Ministry of Agriculture in Phnom Penh on Monday asking that they reconsider the decision to do away with the groups. The groups submitted an identical petition to the National Assembly last week.
Agriculture Minister Chan Sarun said by telephone Monday that he had not yet seen the petition, but added that the groups had proved problematic and his ministry wanted to see those state-owned plantations be better managed.
“I don’t understand their complaint,” he said.
“It is state property.”