Recently Bailed Union Leader Vows to Continue Strike Activity

A combative union leader who was released on bail last week pending trial on charges of extortion and making threats during a strike last month vowed Wednesday to continue leading his militant brand of industrial action if workers called upon him.

Cambodia Labor Solidarity Union Federation president Seang Rithy was arrested February 3 in possession of 51 bamboo poles on the way to a strike in front of the Apsara Garment factory in Phnom Penh’s industrial Pur Senchey district.

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia held a press conference the next day to decry his style of industrial action and to paint him as a violent union leader. The following day, on February 5, he was charged and sent to prison.

Mr. Rithy was released on bail on February 27 following the withdrawal of a complaint from the factory’s manager, according to Mr. Rithy’s lawyer, Kuth Keosotha, who is now pushing for the charges to be dropped.

The union leader said Wednesday that he would not stop his activities now that he has been released.

“I am not scared. Before being arrested and after being arrested is the same,” Mr. Rithy said. “If the workers need me to help them because their managers are putting pressure on them and exploiting them, I will do it.”

“I work in this sector and I also know that one day, I might be arrested and put in jail. This is normal for our work,” he added. “I understand that they arrested me in the past to put pressure on workers to end their strike.”

Mr. Rithy claimed that his union had about 20,000 members in more than 38 factories in Phnom Penh and the provinces of Kandal, Kompong Speu, Takeo and Kompong Cham, and had a responsibility to represent their interests.

In an interview last year, Mr. Rithy said his small union would lead strikes at garment factories when more established trade unions refused to do, and that the organization supported itself through a monthly $0.50 fee paid by each of its members.

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