Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - International Workers’ Day march stopped by police near National Assembly

International Workers’ Day march stopped by police near National Assembly

A construction worker wearing a headband bearing the slogan ‘our rights’ in Khmer waits near the Russian Embassy, where more than 1,000 workers had gathered for a march to mark International Workers’ Day yesterday. However, the marchers were greeted with barricades and riot police yesterday in Phnom Penh.
A construction worker wearing a headband bearing the slogan ‘our rights’ in Khmer waits near the Russian Embassy in Phnom Penh, where more than 1,000 workers had gathered for a march to mark International Workers’ Day yesterday. However, the marchers were greeted with barricades and riot police. Hong Menea

International Workers’ Day march stopped by police near National Assembly

More than 1,000 workers from multiple industries were temporarily stopped from conducting a march to celebrate International Workers’ Day in Phnom Penh yesterday, only to ultimately be allowed to conduct an abbreviated march in the presence of around 100 riot police.

The same event last year had proceeded with a much smaller police presence, and workers had been allowed to march a longer route, with one rights activist suggesting yesterday’s forces had been deployed to “threaten” demonstrators.

Major independent unions had planned to assemble 3,000 workers yesterday at the Russian Embassy on Sothearos Boulevard and march to the National Assembly nearby. But they were greeted with police barricades and around 40 police officers.

“They said [the march] will affect national security. We said ‘we only want to celebrate May Day so what effect does it have on national security?’” said Ou Tepphalin, deputy president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF).

After nearly two hours of negotiations with local authorities, the unions were allowed to conduct a short march to the Australian Embassy, a few hundred metres shy of the National Assembly, but only after around 100 riot police, equipped with shields, batons and tear gas launchers, were deployed to monitor them.

Municipal spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the march was in defiance of a City Hall ban issued last week, and justified the security response by saying that the demonstrators had marched in an area that had sensitive locations, such as the National Assembly, Foreign Ministry and the Australian and Russian embassies.

“It was to ensure safety. They said to us 3,000 people [will march], so we need to put those police to protect the safety for all,” he said.

But Licadho’s Am Sam Ath, who was monitoring the event, said it was surprising to see the heightened security, which he perceived as a threatening gesture from the authorities on a day where it is common for workers across the world to celebrate their rights.

“If you look at the pictures, it looks like they are there to protect them, but they are here to threaten [workers],” he said.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Riot police armed with tear gas launchers get into formation as more than a thousand workers demonstrate near the National Assembly to celebrate May Day yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

See more pictures from the day here.

After reaching the Australian Embassy, union leaders addressed the crowds on a makeshift stage, where they led chants with proworker slogans. Workers wore red headbands, and hoisted union flags and colourful banners with sector-specific demands written on them.

While some demanded Cambodia ratify International Labour Organization conventions to protect domestic workers, others called for an end to worker discrimination and increased protections for female workers, especially those who are pregnant.

Since last May Day, unions have faced the passage of the highly-contentious Trade Union Law, which labour advocates say is being used to restrict factory-level union registrations. While garment worker-related accidents have seen a small dip, around 140 factory closures in 2016 left many workers in the lurch in terms of unpaid wages and severance.

“Our rights have been reduced since the Union Law was approved. If we do not come to protest or to demand our rights, who will know our rights and find a solution for our concerns?” said Yang Sophorn, head of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions.

Union leaders also presented Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Lork Kheng with a 16-point petition, which included demands for a $207 monthly wage for garment workers, better occupational safety guidelines and revisions to the Trade Union Law.

The lawmaker’s presence at the rally was uncharacteristic, given that unions normally hand over such petitions to the National Assembly’s secretariat. Kheng took the opportunity yesterday to promote the Cambodian People’s Party’s line on workers’ rights.

“The workers are important because they push the country’s economy. The government has pushed hard to increase workers’ wages,” she said.

However, CFSWF President Sar Mora was sceptical of the lawmaker’s claims, saying the unions would only believe her if the government acted on the long-standing demands stated in their petition.


  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does

  • Nine on Indonesia flight Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health on Saturday confirmed nine more imported cases of Covid-19. The nine ‒ eight Cambodians and one Indonesian, aged 22 to 26 ‒ arrived in Cambodia on Thursday via a direct flight from Indonesia and are receiving treatment at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hostipal in Phnom Penh.

  • Kingdom’s financial sector healthy

    Cambodia's financial sector remains on a sustainable growth path despite the Covid-19 pandemic squeezing crucial industries, National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) governor Chea Chanto said. Tourism, garments and footwear have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 impact, he said, whereas the financial and agriculture sectors

  • Vietnam told to remove border tents

    Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan has ordered local authorities to prohibit the construction of buildings in areas bordering Cambodia and to report any irregularities immediately. Recently, Vietnamese officials removed another seven tents from the border area with Cambodia. His remarks were made on Wednesday afternoon