Some of Cambodia’s most prominent rights groups issued a statement yesterday condemning what they characterized as the government’s pursuit of legal action against union representatives who led garment workers during last week’s strikes.
“The right to organize, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike are guaranteed…. The government must allow workers and unions to freely exercise these rights,” Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, said in the statement.
Seven organizations put their names to the statement, including CLEC, Licadho, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. They called for complaints against 92 union representatives to be dropped, and condemned what they called “violent incidents” that took place during the strikes.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia last week filed civil complaints against union representatives who helped organize the stoppages. The representatives were suspended pending the results of these cases.
Last Thursday the Council of Ministers approved a request from the Labor Ministry and Ministry of Social Affairs for Prime Minister Hun Sen to order a joint committee of the two ministries to cooperate with GMAC in filing legal complaints against strike leaders. The order also called for coordinated police action against those inciting workers to strike.
Council of Ministers Secretary of State Prak Sokhonn, who signed the approval, was in a meeting and could not comment yesterday, while Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he was not aware of the order. A CPP spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Labor Oum Mean said he was no longer responsible for this case.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said that the association and its members had been responsible for gathering evidence and filing complaints against representatives.
“We are the ones who are submitting the complaints,” he said.
GMAC has said that it will attempt to sue union leaders, including Cambodian Labor Confederation President Ath Thon, Cambodian National Confederation President Morm Yim, and Moeun Tola, the head of CLEC’s labor project.
Hong Bun Hour, a clerk at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said he had not received any lawsuits against these individuals yet.
Workers in Kandal province continued their strikes yesterday to demand the reinstatement of the suspended union representatives.
Around 1,000 workers showed up outside Goldfame Enterprises (Int’l) Knitting factory, in the province’s Sa’ang district, yesterday morning, to be confronted by a 2-meter-high barricade topped with razor wire erected just outside the factory gates.
Unable to stand in front of the factory, the crowd spilled out onto the adjacent road and slowed traffic for around an hour.
Rath Chhorm Nimul, deputy chief of the judicial unit of the provincial military police, said officers stationed at the affected factories had not been ordered to disperse the workers
“[W]e are just stationed here and observe the situation,” he said.
Speaking through a translator, Sam Yu of Goldfame said that the barricade had been put up to protect the factory and its workers, and allow vehicles to get in and out.
Despite possessing court injunctions that allow workers to be fired if they do not return, representatives from Goldfame and the River Rich Textile factory, in the same district, said no workers had been dismissed yet.