The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to use his powers to ensure the immediate release of NagaWorld trade union activists following their arrest on “conspiracy” charges – a matter officials said must be resolved through the courts.

ILO director-general Guy Ryder made the call in a letter to Hun Sen on January 7, stating the fundamental importance of respect for freedom of association as one of the primary safeguards of peace and social justice which he said is fully recognised by Cambodia’s laws and Constitution.

Ryder called for the release of all detained workers and the dropping of all criminal charges related to their trade union activity.

“I expressed deep concern over the recent arrests of workers and union activists following the peaceful strike called by the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of Naga World (LRSU),” Ryder said in a subsequent press statement.

Nine union leaders and activists have been indicted by the court thus far with eight of them placed in pre-trial detention on charges of “inciting serious social unrest” after more than 1,000 workers of the integrated resort went on strike to protest the lay-off of 365 fellow employees who they say were targeted for union organising.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan told The Post on January 11 that private companies’ hiring or firing of workers was not something the government has any power over and it could only encourage a peaceful settlement, while the legal action against the protest leaders was a matter for the courts and under their jurisdiction as an independent judiciary and thus it would be inappropriate for the prime minister to interfere with the process.

“The arrest of the unionists was the court’s prerogative. It wasn’t done as part of the labour dispute, rather it concerns criminal activities allegedly carried out by the protest leaders.

“Therefore, the ILO should pause and consider whether their request is one that supports the rule of law in Cambodia, which is best served by leaving the matter to the courts so they can find out the facts and the evidence,” he said.