Phnom Penh Municipal Court questioned three former union officials yesterday over allegations they had incited workers to damage property during protests held at a garment factory last month, lawyers and labor experts said.
Ian Pao, 39, Hourt Bora, 31, and Nonn Chamnan, 31, were summoned for questioning by the court following a complaint by San Lui Fung Garment Factory over their role in organizing a strike at the factory in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Loeu commune early last month.
The factory’s lawyer Sry Kim You said the three former union workers incited and coerced workers to strike from August 7 to 25, which led the company to suffer financial losses. He said the company was seeking a total of $60,000 from the three men under criminal charges of incitement to damage property.
“They damaged the finances of the garment factory,” he said.
The defendants’ lawyer Heng Bong said his clients, who during the protests were members of an internal union at the San Lui Fung factory, had the right to organize the strike under Cambodia’s labor laws.
“My clients did not do wrong like the garment factory says,” he said. “I will request the court to drop the case.” His clients have since left the union, he said.
Mr Pao, one of the summoned men, said he had helped organize the strike but had not incited workers to damage property. “We did strike but we respected the law,” he said.
Mr Pao added around 200 workers at the factory had gone on an extended strike last month to demand that the factory installed retirement bonuses.
Moeun Tola, head of the Labor Program at the Community Legal Education Center, said the company was abusing the court system to intimidate the workers and sue them under criminal laws, while in fact workers have the right to organize a strike under labor laws.
“They don’t have a legal ground to sue them,” he said, adding that because the courts were not independent, companies could file criminal charges against union officials who are exercising their rights under the labor law.
“We have seen this before in the labor movement…. they often face criminal charges,” Mr Tola said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun declined to comment, saying he was unfamiliar with the case.
(Additional reporting by Paul Vrieze)