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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unionist sacking 'no basis in law'

Unionist sacking 'no basis in law'

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

jobs.

"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,

except him."

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."

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