Two union leaders hailed Monday’s Labor Day protests as a victory, saying it was the first time workers had marched successfully since the massive funeral procession that followed the killing of union leader Chea Vichea in 2004.
“It was a successful march. We were able to express our opinion, commemorate the slain activist Chea Vichea and march as planned,” said Chea Mony, Free Trade Union President and brother of assassinated FTU President Chea Vichea. The FTU has given the government two weeks to meet union demands for increased pay and reduced work hours or workers will hold a mass strike, Chea Mony added.
“The government must discuss and solve the workers’ demands or the workers will discuss themselves and hold a mass strike,” he said.
Chea Mony was detained for two hours on Monday by police who stopped him from leading several hundred workers from Russian Boulevard to a rally in the center of the city.
Despite police blockades, May Day marchers eventually made their way to the newsstand at Wat Langka where Chea Vichea was gunned down in January 2004.
Chea Mony said police showed uncustomary restraint toward the marchers, as officials feared a backlash from aid donors if violence were used on International Labor Day.
“The government wanted to show that Cambodia is a democratic country and the government is gentle,” he said.
Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said he was ordered not to use violence on protesters by both National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy and Interior Minister Sar Kheng. Police instead tried to appeal to the workers, explaining that they were marching illegally.
“We tried to explain to the workers that they didn’t have permission to hold the march,” Touch Naruth said.
“We tried to prevent the workers from destroying the public property,” he added, without elaborating.
Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association President Rong Chhun called the rally a success.
“Although police prevented the workers, the workers walked and rode motorbike taxis to join us,” he said.