Nearly 100 construction workers protested outside the Theng Sreng company in Kandal province’s Chbar Ampov district yesterday after the firm fired a newly elected union leader on Monday.
Leang Sophea had been elected as the workers’ first-ever union representative the day before being sacked, said Sou Chhlonh, an official with Building and Wood Workers Trade Union of Cambodia, which was helping workers form a union.
“The company has exploited their labour for nearly 10 years, but the workers did not dare to protest,” said Chhlonh. “They had only just elected a union, but the company already is discriminating against it.”
Chhlonh said 500 workers at Theng Sreng – which subcontracts workers to construction sites at boreys, gated residential communities – formed the union to improve working conditions, such as holidays, benefits, working hours and assistance for work-related injuries.
Yang Chantha, chief administrator at Theng Sreng, said Sophea was fired because he had stolen company property in the past, but admitted his unionising efforts played a key role in the decision. “He gathered workers to create a union to protest,” Chantha said. “We cannot accept his activities.”
Chantha added that all workers had signed contracts spelling out their work conditions. While the company would address their issues, Theng Sreng was following the clauses in their contracts. “They agreed to obey [contracts] and signed them,” he said. “So if they did not favour it, they should not have signed the contracts.”
Sophea denied Chantha’s claim that he had stolen company property, adding that he was accused only after he helped unionise the workers.
“We must create a union to demand [better] working conditions because the company is exploiting our workers,” he added.
Sophea said he heard that management had decided to fire him on Monday but only told him on Tuesday to not come to work.
Moeun Tola, head of labour rights group Central, said the company’s actions contravened the recently passed Trade Union Law, which gave workers the right to organise and elect a union leader of their choice.
“The employer cannot just terminate workers because they decide to form a union,” he said. “But this commonly happens.”
While union creation is widely prevalent among garment and footwear workers, Tola said construction workers have had limited success because many of them are sub-contracted to various companies, making it hard to ascertain which firm was liable for the workers.
“And construction workers are struggling because they are working in dangerous conditions and face occupational safety hazards,” Tola said.