Unions Angry With Government as Kem Sokha Urges ‘Sacrifice’ Over Vote

CNRP President Kem Sokha on Thursday urged workers to make sacrifices to vote as they face what his party has called an intentional government campaign to suppress their votes, while unions expressed anger at the policy.

Speaking to hundreds of supporters in Kandal province, as well as to tens of thousands watching on Facebook, Mr. Sokha told garment workers that their vote could swing Sunday’s commune elections.

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Garment workers leave a factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Thursday afternoon. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“I know clearly that they won’t make it convenient for you…but everything depends on you,” Mr. Sokha said. “You have to dare to sacrifice, you have to struggle…for the development of our communes and villages.”

The Labor Ministry released a statement on Monday to all employers and factory owners asking them to find a compromise to help workers travel back to where they registered to vote. Rights groups have said the statement was weaker than in previous election years, when managers were ordered to facilitate workers’ voting and three days off were mandated around the election.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour declined to comment on the change on Thursday, referring reporters to a statement released by the ministry on Wednesday. That statement said the ministry’s Monday directive complied with commune election laws passed in 2015.

Oum Dina, secretary of the Coalition Free Trade Union of Women’s Textiles, said that many of her union’s nearly 100,000 workers “were not happy” with the government’s move.

“They are wondering and analyzing in their minds why the ministry made a different decision from previous years,” Ms. Dina said.

She has heard of some factories allowing employees to work over public holidays in exchange for taking days off during the election.

Mann Senghak, vice president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, which represents more than 100,000 workers, said he didn’t understand why the ministry had changed its policy this election.

Som Aun, president of the CPP-aligned Cambodian Labor Union Federation, which has about 400,000 members, said his union supported the ministry’s statement.

“When we met and asked workers, we don’t think it is an issue for them, because most of them registered [to vote] where they worked,” Mr. Aun said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean and Brendan O’Byrne)


Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia represents nearly 10,000 workers and the Cambodian Labor Union has about 40,000 members. They represent 100,000 and 400,000, respectively. 

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