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Disorder in the House

TWENTY opposition lawmakers yesterday stormed out of a National Assembly session addressing last month’s large-scale garment-sector strikes after Sam Rainsy Party MP Son Chhay was prevented from putting questions directly to Labour Minister Vong Soth.

The walkout came 30 minutes into the two-hour session, when lawmakers were told Vong Soth would provide some answers to 18 questions that Son Chhay submitted last week, but that Son Chhay would not be allowed to read them out.

Nguon Nhel, first vice-president of the National Assembly and chair of yesterday’s session, said it was unnecessary for Son Chhay to read out the questions because Vong Soth had already received them in writing. “His Excellency Vong Soth can read the questions and answers by himself,” he said.

But Son Chhay said yesterday afternoon that Vong Soth neither read out nor answered the questions.

“I was kind enough to prepare the questions in advance so that they could study my questions and prepare their answers, and then [Nguon Nhel] said the minister could answer what he likes. This is ridiculous,” he said.

“If we ask him about the monkeys he should answer about the monkeys, and not talk about the pigs and cats and dogs.”

In his questions, Son Chhay had called for Vong Soth to justify the use of court injunctions to end some of the strikes. He also asked the ministry to describe steps taken to protect workers’ rights, and to answer to accusations that it had failed to follow through on promises to meet union leaders to discuss benefits for workers.

Spurred by the announcement of a new minimum wage, last month’s strike was halted on its fourth day after the Social Affairs Ministry called for talks on potential worker benefits.

However, fresh stoppages broke out in response to reports that about 200 union leaders accused of inciting the original strikes had been suspended, and thousands of employees continued striking for about a week after they were notified of a court injunction ordering them to return to work.

Union leaders said last week that 683 workers had been dismissed and 94 were still suspended.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia, said 358 had been dismissed and 67 suspended.

Vong Soth yesterday defended the government’s actions with respect to the striking workers. He did not answer all of Son Chhay’s questions directly.

“The government, which Prime Minister Hun Sen leads, never abandons the workers or the other people who live difficult lives, but he always helps them. It is not like what Son Chhay said,” he told the lawmakers.

“Government officials don’t stay quietly without paying attention to the workers. We always solve the problems for them.”

Son Chhay said 18 of the lawmakers who walked out were from the SRP, and that the other two were from the Human Rights Party.

He said he would write to Hun Sen to request that Vong Soth return to the National Assembly to answer all of his questions.

“I will write to the Prime Minister because I think he will agree that our role is important for good governance,” he said.

“It is not to harm them, it is an opportunity for them to tell the public what they have done, because we hardly ever hear about what they are doing.”

Neither Vong Soth nor Nguon Nhel could not be reached for comment after the session yesterday.



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