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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unions threaten mass demo

A man beats a drum as garment workers hold placards and chant at a protest at the Ministry of Labour in Phnom Penh earlier this month
A man beats a drum as garment workers hold placards and chant at a protest at the Ministry of Labour in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Pha Lina

Unions threaten mass demo

The garment industry will devolve into chaos if any of the six labour union presidents summonsed to court for questioning are taken into custody, independent union leaders said.

Several of the six major union leaders called to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning for alleged crimes connected to violent protests in early January said yesterday they will call for members to hold massive demonstrations across the Kingdom if the cases move forward.

“We will encourage the workers to push, and support us if we are arrested because we are always protecting them,” said Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodian Alliance Trade Union.

Phnom Penh Municipal investigative judge Chea Sokheang last week told the Post that he sent summonses for the leaders of six independent labour unions who encouraged a 10-day nationwide strike in the garment sector after the Ministry of Labour set the industry’s minimum wage at $100, rather than the $160 unions pushed.

Sophorn, Chea Mony, Ath Thorn, Rong Chhun, Pav Sina and Morm Nhim will be called for questioning on charges of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances. If convicted, each could face up to five years in prison.

Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina, who is scheduled for questioning on Friday, said his arrest would disrupt a large number of factories.

“My activists will instruct our members in more than 40 factories, in Phnom Penh and the provinces, to suspend work, and demand my release,” Sina said yesterday.

Arrests of the unionists could scare away international brands that source from Cambodia, said Dave Welsh, country director of labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“It’s completely counterproductive,” Welsh said, pointing out that the questioning coincides with negotiations for next year’s minimum wage. “It sends the wrong message to people who are looking at Cambodia’s garment industry.”

Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia secretary general Ken Loo said it’s too early to predict any possible arrests. But if they do, workers have the right to protest.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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