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Park off limits; unions defiant

Garment workers walk down an ally in the afternoon after finishing a shift at factories in Phnom Penh last week
Garment workers walk down an ally in the afternoon after finishing a shift at factories in Phnom Penh last week. Hong Menea

Park off limits; unions defiant

Union groups said they will go through with a planned forum on labour rights in Cambodia’s garment sector at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Saturday, despite the municipal government’s forbidding of the gathering yesterday.

In a meeting at City Hall yesterday morning, government officials told representatives of 18 union groups that the number of people estimated to attend – between 10,000 and 30,000 – exceeded the limit of 200 people allowed to gather at Freedom Park, said Sok Chhun Oeung, acting president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA).

“The municipality’s decision to forbid the forum shows that low- and mid-level authorities do not follow the government’s leaders,” Chhun Oeung said. “This is what makes people lose trust in the ruling government.”

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the 18 groups could hold their forum at their offices, but Freedom Park is off-limits.

“Topics planned to be discussed, and the number of participants approaching the public stage could shake social stability, and could incite violence,” Dimanche said.

But Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation – one of the event’s sponsors – said the concerns expressed by City Hall officials were merely a way to repress people’s freedom to protest publicly.

“The time or location of the forum will not be changed,” Chhun said. After a meeting between the 18 union groups yesterday afternoon, however, Chhun Oeung said the group would consider finding an alternative public location to hold the forum if authorities stymie their efforts to hold it at Freedom Park.

Prime Minister Hun Sen last week lifted a temporary ban on public demonstrations.

Saturday’s forum, which coincides with International Women’s Day, is the second stage of union and labour rights groups’ recent protests against the Ministry of Labour’s December decision to set the garment sector’s minimum monthly wage at $100, rather than the $160 unions demanded, and the detention of 21 people arrested at early-January demonstrations supporting a nationwide garment worker strike.

Last week, unions held a boycott on overtime work. After the planned March 8 forum – to which members of the Cambodian People’s Party, Cambodia National Rescue Party and representatives of numerous foreign embassies were invited – the unions plan to hold a stay-at-home strike from March 12 until at least March 19.

Planned topics of discussion also include women’s rights, rights to proper living conditions and the state of the court system.

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