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A stream of garment workers leaves a factory after finishing a shift yesterday in Phnom Penh
A stream of garment workers leaves a factory after finishing a shift yesterday in Phnom Penh. Hong Menea

Scores of factories ‘set to sue’ over strike

The owners of 170 factories have handed power of attorney to the nation’s factories association ahead of a potential lawsuit directed at the leaders of six union groups.

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) secretary-general Ken Loo said yesterday that the factories would seek damages related to the late-December to early-January strike, which ended with a government crackdown that left at least four protesters dead by police bullets.

“It’s based on damage to property and incitement, in a nutshell,” Loo said.

An unofficial translation by the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) of what it claims is a January 5 complaint filed by GMAC to Phnom Penh Municipal Court names liable parties as the leaders of C.CAWDU, the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia, the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, the Free Trade Union, the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association and the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.

Loo confirmed those named in the complaint but could not confirm the authenticity of C.CAWDU’s document, saying he had not seen the unofficial translation. He declined to name specific companies that gave GMAC power of attorney or how much GMAC plans to seek in damages.

Leaders of all six union groups encouraged garment workers to strike after the Ministry of Labour set the industry’s 2014 minimum monthly wage at $100, rather than the $160 unions demanded.

“[GMAC] tries to use its power to try and find a way to destroy trade unions,” said C.CAWDU president Ath Thorn, who has forwarded the complaint to international labour unions and rights groups.

While indications of an impending lawsuit have existed since last month, legal action has not yet been taken, said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.

Complaints in court may just serve as a latent threat, he said. But actually suing could have adverse results for the industry.

“It will attract incredible backlash in the international community.”

But the threat of a lawsuit will not intimidate the unions, CUMW president Pav Sina said. “We are not wrong and we are not scared.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR

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