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Government called on to halt ‘judicial politicisation’

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Union leader Ath Thorn attends a minimum wage demonstration on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in 2015. Heng Chivoan

Government called on to halt ‘judicial politicisation’

Six global union federations on Monday issued a joint statement calling on the government to drop charges against local union leaders over involvement in a series of minimum wage protests between 2013 and last year.

The six federations are the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI); International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF); Public Service International (PSI); UNI Global Union; International Domestic Workers’ Federation (IDWF); and International Transport Federation (ITF).

Currently, Free Trade Union (FTU) president Chea Mony, Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU) president Ath Thorn, Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) president Yang Sohorn, Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) president Pav Sina, and Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) president Rong Chhun are facing long-standing charges.

The union leaders were sued by factory owners and government officials over their intent to commit violence and other charges stemming from the nationwide strikes over the minimum wage.

BWI Asia-Pacific Regional representative Apolinar Tolentino said there is no evidence suggesting the leaders had called for, caused, provoked or condoned such actions.

“[The claims] clearly demonstrate politicisation of the judiciary in [Hun Sen’s] Cambodia,” he claimed.

IUF acting regional secretary Hidayat Greenfield said: “Garment manufacturers appear to [take advantage] of the politicised judicial system in harassing trade unionists and lodging baseless claims against individuals known to have taken part in the protests.”

UNI regional secretary Chris Ng said: “We are demanding that the charges against these union leaders be immediately dropped and that the [Cambodian] government involves the independent leaders in new discussions on achieving meaningful minimum wage rises and genuine collective bargaining.”

Ath Thorn, who is also the president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), lauded the joint statement.

“We are happy that there are international voices pushing the government to drop the charges. I sent documents to the Labour Ministry last week, asking for an intervention,” Thorn said.

He said he had been summoned to appear for questioning pertaining to a protest on the capital’s Veng Sreng Boulevard. “I hope there will be a positive [result],” he said.

CATU president Yang Sophorn hoped for local and international support in advocating workers’ rights.

“We wish to be encouraged and supported, not being served with lawsuits, because we work for the benefit of workers,” she said.

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