Ath Thorn, head of Cambodia’s largest independent labour union, was placed under court supervision yesterday, the second such prohibitive order for the union leader.
A judge told Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), that he cannot attend public demonstrations, and must report to police once per month, along with other requirements.
The court also ordered Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, and Chea Mony, who leads the Free Trade Union, to also stay away from demonstrations and check in under the same timeline.
“It is not fair, because we have not done what [the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC)] and the authorities have accused us of,” Thorn said, referring to the organisation behind the complaint, which was filed on behalf of some 170 factories affected by a nationwide garment worker strike from late December to early January of this year.
A total of six union leaders are charged with several crimes, including intentional violence in aggravating circumstances, connected to the strike, which led to the deaths of at least five people.
Charges against the union members are baseless, because they accuse them of committing acts at places they were not present, said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.
Courts are charging union leaders with these crimes now to give the government leverage during minimum wage negotiations and ahead of the decision on next year’s industry floor wage, which is expected by the end of October, Welsh said.
“I think the basis for the charges and the issue of supervision are farcical,” he added. “They’re purely political and it’s being done in the event that [the government decides on] a minimum wage that is not satisfactory to unions”.
Thorn was already under court supervision for a separate case in which he is a defendant, stemming from a strike at SL Garment Processing a few months before the nationwide protests last year.
In that case, he is accused of inciting violence that injured the plaintiff, an SL security guard. One bystander was killed by stray gunfire from security forces during the strike.
The C.CAWDU president already ignored the first court order on Wednesday, when he led a small march favouring a $177 minimum wage next year.