Union leaders planning a stay-at-home strike to demand a higher minimum wage for the country’s garment workers say they will press on with the strike after the Khmer New Year, despite the threat of arrest for anyone handing out leaflets promoting their plans.
On Sunday, a union member was temporarily detained by police in Svay Rieng province and stripped of leaflets promoting plans for a strike this month.
Bavet City deputy police chief Keo Sokhorn on Sunday confirmed the man’s detention but refused to give an explanation. On Monday, Bavet City police chief Keo Kong said he knew nothing of the detention of a person handing out leaflets but warned of arrest for anyone who tried.
“If there is anyone distributing leaflets we will arrest them,” he said.
Phnom Penh municipal government spokesman Long Dimanche said the same.
“We do not allow them to distribute leaflets in a public place unless they ask for permission,” he said.
Neither Mr. Kong nor Mr. Dimanche would explain what law gave them the right to arrest anyone handing out leaflets urging garment workers to join a strike.
The unions behind the strike say there is no legal basis for such threats.
“They try to shut down our rights, but we cannot accept it because it violates our rights and the constitutional law,” said Pao Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Worker.
It was a member of Mr. Sina’s union who was detained in Bavet City on Sunday while on the way to the union’s local offices with about 5,000 leaflets. Mr. Sina said the union had already handed out about 15,000 leaflets and would change its tactics to distribute the rest. He declined to provide more details for fear of tipping off the authorities.
“Since the government uses all means to stop workers from joining the strike, we have to use other strategies to fight back peacefully, without confronting the authorities,” he said.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said they were also broadcasting their strike plans on the radio.
“We are sticking to our plan for a stay-at-home strike from April 17 to 22 even though GMAC [the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia] and the Ministry of Labor refuse to let us do it,” said Yang Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.
The unions sent GMAC a letter last week asking for permission to use some of the 18 days of annual leave workers are legally allowed to conduct the strike, but Ms. Sophorn said they had yet to hear back.
GMAC Secretary-General Ken Loo said the unions were sent a reply warning of disciplinary action for anyone who joined the strike.
“They will be submitted to disciplinary action depending on internal regulations” of the particular factory, he said.
The unions want a guarantee that strikers won’t lose out on pay or their monthly bonuses, but Mr. Loo said that would be the least of it.
“That would be the minimum,” he said, adding that workers could face dismissal.
GMAC argues that the Labor Law does not allow workers to use their vacation days in the way proposed by the unions.
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)
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