The number of demonstrations by garment workers in the Kingdom seems to be decreasing, while Hun Sen on Wednesday mocked independent unions by saying they were losing workers and operating under the influence of foreign donors.
However, Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) president Pao Sina denied the claim, saying instead that it was the government regulations on protests that attributed to falling memberships.
Speaking to 27,400 textile workers in Kandal province on Wednesday, the prime minister did not directly mention any unions by name, but he seemed to refer to those that often led worker protests or filed petitions to government institutions seeking solutions over employment conflicts, benefits or working conditions.
On International Labour Day this year, the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) led a gathering of hundreds of workers in the capital to demand that the minimum wage be raised from $170 to $207 per month.
Additionally, the group expressed their opposition to the Kingdom’s controversial Trade Union Law.
Initially requesting to march from the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) to the National Assembly building, the group was only given permission by City Hall to rally along the riverside.
Hun Sen speculated that the marches were organised solely to solicit foreign donations.
“Others told me that if there is no marching, the donors abroad would not give the unions funds, but I would like to tell the donors that workers’ freedom doesn’t only mean marching.”
The prime minister said less than one percent of the country’s 700,000 garment workers were signing on to union petitions.
Sina, whose CUMW was one of the unions that participated in the Labour Day gathering, said the restrictions on such events or marches made it hard for unions to gather workers.
“We found that every year, even with permission, there are still restrictions or prohibitions. The other important thing is that our activities [suffer from] a lack of financing,” he said.
While denying the prime minister’s accusation that activities were funded by foreign donors, he admitted that only a small portion of the money for such events came from the union.
“We are not involved with politics. I think the point that the government should take into account is the requests of the workers. Even if our gatherings don’t draw one percent of all the workers in the country, we represent an independent voice . . . that does not reflect political trends.”