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Union president plans rally despite City Hall’s objection

Union president plans rally despite City Hall’s objection

CITY officials ruled yesterday that a planned rally of garment workers scheduled for this Sunday will not be allowed, a local labour leader said, setting the stage for a confrontation between workers and local authorities.

Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union and head of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said yesterday that city officials had deemed a planned public forum in Daun Penh district’s Wat Botum Park a threat to “security and social order”. The forum is intended to foster discussion of the newly established minimum wage for garment workers.

Ath Thun, however, pledged to hold the event regardless.

“We keep our stance firm to conduct the public forum at the same place,” Ath Thun said. “We are not afraid of arrest.”

Earlier this month, the Labour Advisory Committee, a body made up of government officials and industry representatives, authorised a US$5 increase in the monthly minimum wage for Cambodian garment workers, bringing the standard to $61. Ath Thun and other labour leaders had been advocating for as much as $93 per month.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said police would disperse the forum if it was convened without official permission.

“They can organise it if they have a permit from the authorities, but it is illegal if they do it without permission,” Touch Naruth said.

Ath Thun said that in a meeting at City Hall yesterday morning, Phnom Penh Municipality deputy chief of cabinet Koet Chhe told labour leaders that the forum would not be permitted in public, but that it could be held in a private office or at a rented facility.

Koet Chhe declined to comment on the issue yesterday.

City officials sent the decision to ban the forum to the Ministry of Interior for approval, Ath Thun said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment.

Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said local authorities would be well within their rights to disperse the forum. Most garment workers, he added, were satisfied with the Labour Advisory Committee’s decision.

“To attempt to do something without permission is illegal,” Tith Sothea said. “The authorities have the right to clear them out to protect public security.”

In May, police in Chamkarmon district blocked a planned screening of a documentary about slain labour leader Chea Vichea on the grounds that the union leaders and opposition politicians who organised the event had not been given permission by the government.

The Interior Ministry said that the film had been “illegally imported.”

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