Fourteen laid-off employees face criminal charges including defamation, perjury and incitement.
FOURTEEN laid-off union leaders from NagaWorld Casino appeared at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday morning to answer questions in relation to four criminal charges filed against them following protests for increased pay at the casino and entertainment complex.
Sok Narith, one of the 14 laid-off workers and the vice president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation, which represents around 1,000 NagaWorld employees, said five of the workers were questioned by court officials.
The rest have been ordered to return to court for questioning today and Wednesday.
He said the unionists have been charged with incitement to discrimination, defamation, perjury and incitement to the commission of a felony or misdemeanour, but rejected all of the allegations.
"We have told the court's clerk that we could not accept any of the charges against us, as we haven't committed any of the crimes since we were fired from jobs on February 26, 2009."
Sok Narith added that NagaWorld had fired the unionised employees and brought charges against them because it did not want demands for increased annual salaries, suitable working conditions and other incentives to cut into the company's bottom line.
"We made a thorough examination before we made a decision to petition the company, [and] the company's income has increased from year to year," he said, adding that NagaWorld's profits rose from US$85.4 million in 2006 to $193.5 million in 2008.
Phen Samphos, 34, a former casino executive who had worked for NagaWorld since 1994 before he was fired in February, told the Post on Monday that the charges were "very unjust" in comparison with the peaceful steps the workers had taken to improve their working conditions.
"We just requested that employers respond to our requests, but there was no response except the charges against us," he said.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, agreed, saying the legal charges were being used to "silence the voices" of the union representatives and undermine their claims for higher wages.
"The judicial system makes people lack confidence, and the court's decision to charge 14 NagaWorld union leaders with various crimes has been done under [at the behest] of powerful and rich men," he said.
He said CCHR would be sending monitors to the court to ensure a just resolution to the case.