Union leaders on Thursday criticized the government and the municipality for denying them permission to publicly gather and celebrate Saturday’s International Labor Day, prompting the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association to change their plans.
In lieu of a large-scale celebration, the unions planned a march instead.
“I maintain my stance on celebrating International Labor Day, and, if we look at our Cambodian Constitution, we have the right to gather for any peaceful event or ceremony,” said Chea Mony, a Free Trade Union board member and brother of its slain president, Chea Vichea.
“I will march with CITA officials and take flowers to put at the scene of Chea Vichea’s death,” Chea Mony said, adding that many workers are expected to join him.
The Free Trade Union, CITA, the Coalition of Cambodian Workers Democratic Union and the Cambodian Tourist and Service Workers Federation, applied on April 8 to City Hall for permission to gather on Saturday in the park across from the National Assembly.
Municipal Cabinet Chief Mann Chhoeun signed off on the denial Tuesday, citing a directive from Prime Minister Hun Sen ordering that organizations’ May 1 celebrations be held at private headquarters.
“The municipality is trying to stop the democracy movement. Our country is a democratic country on paper, but there is no implementation in reality,” CITA President Rong Chhun said.
He confirmed that his association would join the Free Trade Union in the march to honor Chea Vichea.
Chea Vichea was shot dead at a newsstand near Phnom Penh’s Wat Langka on Jan 22. Two suspects have been arrested in a controversial investigation marred by criticism of police conduct.
Meanwhile, CTSWF President Ly Korm said the four workers’ groups, would celebrate Labor Day at Hang Neak Restaurant on Chroy Changva peninsula. About 2,000 people are expected, he said.
The original plan for Saturday’s rally was to have workers gather in the park and listen to speeches about their rights, Ly Korm said.
He said he believed Hun Sen expected the labor organizations to criticize the government and riot.
“Labor Day is for the world, but it is very strange in Cambodia,” Ly Korm said.
Rong Chhun maintained that Labor Day should be honored publicly and said CITA and the Free Trade Union would not join the restaurant party.
Meanwhile, beginning Wednesday evening and continuing on Thursday morning, more than 700 employees of the Bumin/Ex-Golden Time Camb, Garment company went on strike, burning tires outside the factory on the southern outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Workers demanded that management follow the Labor Law on firing employees, not cut their wages for striking, and maintain a dialogue with union representatives, according to Som Aun, director of Cambodia Union Federation.
The strike ended by about 9 am, as negotiations began, lasting until 5 pm.
Factory management agreed to all union demands except paying this month’s wages for hours that workers spent striking, Som Aun said.
Repeated calls to factory management went unanswered.