Pro-Government Unions Call for Action Against Leaders of Strikes

Unions aligned with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government issued a statement Wednesday calling on it to “take action” against union leaders who they accuse of inciting workers to hold strikes and violent demonstrations.

“We would like to request [CPP Labor Minister] Ith Sam Heng to take action against some union leaders and their activists who have incited workers and threatened innocent people with violence during the strikes and demonstrations,” the pro-ruling party unions said in a statement.

“The ministry should take those people to condemn them in accordance with the law,” states the letter, signed by Som Aun, Chhum Socheat and Chuom Mom Thol, presidents of CPP-aligned union confederations.

The same unions issued a statement earlier this month, in the midst of nationwide labor strikes for a higher minimum wage, congratulating the government for its hard work in raising the minimum wage from $80 to $95, which was well below the $160 monthly wage demanded by six nongovernment aligned garment worker unions.

Mr. Mom Thol said Wednesday he was simply endorsing calls by the Labor Minister for unions to stop violating the law through illegal strikes.

“My members are not happy with the incitement to strike because factory managers cut their salary during the protest,” he said.

Hundreds of factories were forced to shut down due to nationwide labor strikes in late December and early January, which unions say involved more than 300,000 workers. A number of factories have once again faced strikes this month over their refusal to pay workers their salaries during the time they were on strike.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, the country’s largest independent union confederation, said that Mr. Aun and Mr. Mom Thol were not acting in the interests of the country’s 600,000 garment factory workers.

“Those two people are not the real union leaders serving the workers, they use their unions as a shield to confuse the workers because they are government officials,” he said.

Mr. Mom Thol describes himself as a government adviser, while Mr. Aun is an official at the Council of Ministers.

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor, said Wednesday that CPP Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon will convene a meeting to “research raising the minimum wage for civil servants and workers” on February 5.

Despite setting up a task force before its latest wage revision, which found that a living wage for garment workers is between $157 and $177, the government decided to raise the wage to $95, expressing fear that a higher wage could scare off investment.

Leaders of the garment industry’s nongovernment aligned unions have promised to restart strikes if the government does not facilitate negotiations for a higher minimum wage.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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