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Gov’t warns unions on demo

Garment factory workers return to Phnom Penh after voting in their hometowns in July.
Garment factory workers return to Phnom Penh after voting in their hometowns in July. Yesterday the Labour Ministry appealed to Cambodia’s workforce, encouraging employees to remain calm and continue work as usual in light of post-election tensions. PHA LINA

Gov’t warns unions on demo

At least one union leader is butting heads with the Ministry of Labour as he encourages workers to join the planned opposition party demonstration on Saturday.

A letter from the ministry sent to factories on Monday called on workers and unions to avoid participation in the planned Cambodia National Rescue Party demonstration, asserting that the “propagandising of some politicians could affect [workers’] living standards and create disorder in society”.

Going directly against that advice, Rong Chhun, president of the more than 100,000 member Cambodia Confederation of Unions – which has historically been linked to the opposition – has encouraged workers to actively participate in the demonstration.

CNRP officials announced on Monday that the mass demonstration against the National Election Committee’s official results of the July 28 election, which preliminarily said the Cambodian People’s Party won 68 National Assembly seats to the CNRP’s 55, will take the form of a ceremony for prayer and contemplation.

While the Labour Ministry’s letter said it recently formed a committee to study the possibility of wage increases for workers, and implied participating was not in their best interest, Chhun argued that the demonstration was a step in the right direction to improve Cambodian society.

“I appeal to all garment workers and teachers across the country to join in this demonstration because we want the justice for our election,” Chhun said.

Other union leaders yesterday were hesitant to push workers in one direction or the other.

Kong Athit, vice-president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said union members are free under the law to participate in the demonstration if they want, but that it is not C.CAWDU’s place to guide political activity.

“The trade union should not lead [workers],” Athit said. “The workers should lead the trade union.”

Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia vice-president Van Thol echoed that sentiment, saying that workers’ politics are their own.

Whether workers participate in demonstrations or not, Dave Welsh, country director for the Solidarity Center/ACILS, disagreed with any government ministry issuing a letter discouraging workers from attending a demonstration, he said.

“I think it’s entirely inappropriate,” Welsh said.