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Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha addresses a mass of garment workers at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park during a political rally in 2013.
Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha addresses a mass of garment workers at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park during a political rally in 2013. Scott Howes

Strikes supporting Sokha illegal: pro-gov’t unions

Pro-government unions are calling on authorities to take action against any unionist caught leading protests in support of embattled opposition acting leader Kem Sohka, and they’re pointing to the new Union Law in doing so, saying such political protests are forbidden under the new statute.

The group of government-leaning unions’ public stance followed calls by independent union leaders for workers to strike if Cambodia National Rescue Party acting president Kem Sokha is arrested.

Three unions – the Cambodia Council of National Unions, the National Union Federation of Cambodia and the Cambodian Federation of Independent Trade Unions – representing some 60,000 workers, on Friday and Saturday released statements condemning any union leader who persuades workers to protest for political ends.

“We denounce any union leader who acts contrary to state law, and the competent authorities [should pursue] the most serious conviction in accordance with the laws in force,” Tep Kim Vannary, president of the Cambodia Council of National Unions, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions also asked authorities to take legal action against union leaders and employees who violate employment policies by protesting for political reasons.

The backlash followed statements by the Cambodia’s Free Trade Union and the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association urging workers to strike if Sokha is arrested. Armed police attempted to arrest the lawmaker on Thursday.

Sokha, who is embroiled in a raft of questionable legal cases pertaining to an alleged affair, was charged by the court after failing to appear in court for questioning on Thursday.

Chea Mony, president of the Cambodia’s Free Trade Union, called for workers to “use their legal right to strike” in the event that Sokha is arrested.

Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, said the calls were indicative of a double standard for unions, adding that pro-government unions are “always involved in politics”.

“They are the ones that are close to the [Cambodia People’s Party] and support the ruling party,” he said. He added that workers have the right to protest because politics have wide-ranging effects that impact them directly.

“It’s too bad for Cambodia,” he said of the current political situation, calling for both parties to find a peaceful solution.

The Ministry of Labour on Friday also called for workers to remain calm and go to work as usual. Ministry spokesman Heng Sour couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday.

Additional reporting by Yesenia Amaro

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