The decision by a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge to support the firing of a union
leader by his employer was condemned as unjust by his lawyer, who said the judge
provided no good reason for his ruling.
Judge Kong Seth ruled March 20 that Modern Plastic Packaging (MPP) was justified
in sacking Ouk Bunneath, head of the union at the company. He was dismissed two days
after forming a union in November 2000. Nine other union members also lost their
"The ruling is unjust," said Bunneath. "[The judge] failed to prove
that I made any mistake. I hope the Appeal Court will find justice for me."
At the time he was dismissed Bunneath had already received permission from the Ministry
of Social Affairs (MoSALVY) to establish the union. In response to MPP's decision,
150 workers then went on strike to demand the union members be reinstated. Seventythree
of them were subsequently fired by MPP.
The labor inspection department of MoSALVY rejected the company's decision and wrote
a letter to the management of the Thai-owned company in January 2001 telling them
to re-hire Bunneath and two other union activists. The company refused, blaming their
dismissal on economic difficulties rather than the newly-established union.
"[Bunneath] broke the internal regulations of the company," a company spokesperson
told the Post outside the court. "All the laid-off staff agreed to accept compensation,
Bunneath, a mechanic, said he turned down compensation in defense of the 70 workers
who lost their jobs striking on his behalf.
"Those workers had followed me for many years," he said. "I did not
want to disappoint them."
His lawyer, Legal Aid Cambodia's Lean Chenda, said the judge's ruling did not follow
the law. She added that the judge had not even reviewed the letter sent to MPP by
the ministry. Chenda said she represented seven unionizers in a similar case in Kampong
Speu province in March this year.
In that case, she said, the judge followed the law and ordered the Hong Kong-owned
Cambodian Apparel garment factory to reinstate seven union members who were sacked
in early 2000 after they too tried to form a union.
He also ordered the company pay each worker $1,000 compensation and their salary
back-dated to their dismissal. The decision might be appealed.
Chenda said these were the first two cases involving Cambodian workers who lost their
jobs trying to form a workers' union.
"I see that enforcement of labor law is still weak," she said. "More
importantly, [companies] still do not understand about the freedom to create unions."