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Minister wants union charges to be dropped

People throw a bed onto a burning barricade during violent clashes on Veng Sreng Boulevard in January.
People throw a bed onto a burning barricade during violent clashes on Veng Sreng Boulevard in January. POST STAFF

Minister wants union charges to be dropped

Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng yesterday said his ministry will encourage an end to criminal proceedings against six labour union leaders charged with crimes stemming from a nationwide garment worker strike.

After meeting with 10 representatives of unions and labour rights organisations, Sam Heng said the Ministry of Labour would ask factory owners to drop complaints, which include intentional violence in aggravating circumstances, connected to the late December to early January strike.

“We will help intervene with the plaintiffs,” Sam Heng said after emerging from the two-hour session yesterday morning. “We will ask them to drop the case, and we will work more with the Ministry of Justice on this.”

The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) is representing 170 factories that filed a court complaint against the union leaders for their alleged involvement in the 10-day strike, which ended on January 3, when military authorities shot dead at least five demonstrators on Veng Sreng Boulevard in Phnom Penh.

Leaders of six unions involved in the protests that began after Labour Ministry announced 2014’s garment sector minimum monthly wage would be $95 – $60 less than unions lobbied for – were put under court supervision last month.

“I welcome the minister intervening and trying to drop the complaints against us union leaders,” said Pav Sina, president of Collective Union of Movement of Workers, a defendant in the case.

GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo yesterday evening said he had not heard of Sam Heng’s wish for the case to be dropped but would hear the minister out.

“We’ll hear what he has to say,” Loo said. “We don’t know what he’s proposing.”

After attending the meeting, labour rights group Solidarity Center’s country director, Dave Welsh, said he believed the commitment came as a result of pressure for charges to be dropped.

“There’ve been a lot of calls privately that this needs to be done, there’s been a lot of international media attention,” Welsh said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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