Employees at the New Star Shoe Factory in Sihanoukville told labor officials Monday they plan to strike over a court decision suspending 14 employees.
Under Cambodian labor law, unions must serve seven days’ notice before striking. That means the company’s 1,700 employees could walk off the job next week. No exact date has been planned for the strike.
Workers at the shoe factory have already struck once over the employees, eight of whom are activists. Company officials could not be reached for comment.
George McLeod, international liaison officer with the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, said the 14 workers were unjustly fired March 24 because of their union activities.
The entire work force walked off the job in protest, returning to work two days later after a Ministry of Labor official negotiated a compromise with the company.
Under the compromise, the fired employees were returned to work pending a ruling on the case. The mediator recommended the matter be aired before the new labor arbitration council, with which the union concurred.
But the company chose to go to court instead, and court officials began questioning workers March 27, the day after the mediator’s ruling, McLeod said.
He said the fired employees were summoned to a court hearing without warning. While the employees were trying to get a lawyer, he said, the judge announced his decision.
“This is very disappointing,” McLeod said. “It is a real black eye for the legal system, both the decision and the way it was made. This is blatantly unjust.”
Houn Many, the judge and Sihanoukville’s court director, said only six of the 14 employees summoned showed up in court.
“I decided to suspend them for awhile,” he said. “Both sides are under investigation. We are not clear yet whether the complaint from the factory is right or wrong.”
McLeod said the case will be appealed to the labor arbitration council, and that the issues of freedom of association and the right to belong to a union without being fired are crucial to many non-governmental organizations.
He said the FTU will be calling on a number of NGOs, such as Licadho, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Council and others to support the workers’ stance.
McLeod said New Star workers are upset because the 14 have been ordered to stay outside the factory pending a resolution.