At least one worker and potentially over a dozen more from the Meng Da footwear factory have been summonsed for questioning in court over their roles in a strike on Veng Sreng Boulevard in early December over allegedly unpaid bonuses.
Some 500 workers are said to have demonstrated along the busy thoroughfare – drawing the attention of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who seemed to reference the strike in a speech five days later, criticising the workers for blocking the streets and labelling their actions “illegal”.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court called worker Bo Em in for questioning yesterday, with potential charges of incitement, destruction of property and obstructing traffic. According to Em, 15 other workers had received a summons, though inquiries to officials for confirmation went unanswered yesterday. He said many of the other workers had indicated they would not appear. The original complaint was filed by Li Cheng Te on December 13.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights Executive Director Chak Sopheap previously noted that traffic rules cannot be used to arbitrarily justify restricting the right to freedom of assembly, according to UN standards for the management of demonstrations.
“Too often in Cambodia, traffic flow is cited as a justification for prohibiting assemblies outright, which is rarely if ever acceptable under international human rights law,” Sopheap told The Post after Hun Sen’s speech calling the protest “illegal”.
Em admitted that he took part in the strike, which demanded the payment of a promised annual bonus of 5 percent of workers’ salaries. “But I did not incite or destroy the property of others. [As for] blocking the street, there were many people doing that,” he said.
Reached yesterday, a Meng Da factory representative said she would return a reporter’s call, before turning off her phone.
Ath Thorn, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, pointed to the controversial Trade Union Law, passed in 2016, effectively stripping workers’ rights to collective bargaining.
Under the law, he said, unions are forbidden from participating in protests, which means they cannot ensure they play out peacefully and legally.
“The authorities should help the workers, but instead they ignored them and let the company sue them,” he said, noting that under the law a union cannot provide a lawyer to defendants or help prepare court documents.
“How can they win the case? Even with the help from union, they rarely won the case.”