Prime Minister Hun Sen urged labour and justice ministers on Wednesday to finish all court cases against union leaders.
Speaking to more than 23,000 factory workers in Takeo province on Wednesday, he told the Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Sam Heng and Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana to expedite ongoing court cases and to ignore complaints brought against union leaders.
“If you need to try the cases, do it quickly. Otherwise, just ignore or drop them. Don’t make union leaders feel they are hostages to court cases,” he said.
The prime minister also appealed for solidarity among workers, trade unions and factory owners.
He called on employers to ensure freedom for workers and urged workers to refrain from committing criminal offences while exercising their freedom.
“I heard that Moeun Tola had a case in court. When the charge against him was dropped, they welcomed it. So I thought about this. I heard Ath Thon and Yang Sophorn are also facing lawsuits."
“Please review the cases and decide quickly. Otherwise, just drop the charges and ignore the complaints."
“This is the flow of freedom for workers and unions,” he said.
Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), which counts 48 factories as its members, said he had seven unresolved complaints at the provincial and municipal courts.
“[What Hun Sen said] is really good because it would give us room to work without fear. We don’t have to be afraid of pressure through the judicial system,” he said.
Ath Thon, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU) which represents about 80,000 workers and faces seven complaints at court, welcomed the news.
“I’m happy. We have requested an end of court cases for a long time. I think the government may have just realised that what they had done in the past was a restriction of freedom,” he said.
He urged the government to amend some articles in the trade union laws, which he said restricted the workers’ rights to form unions and hold protests.
Yang Sophorn, the president of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Union (CATU) who also has eight lawsuits pending trial, held high hopes that Hun Sen’s appeal would translate into practice.
“I want [Hun Sen’s] order to take effect. He should not just give an order and no one implements it. If all cases are solved, I’d be really happy."
“What I am doing is like voluntary work because it is for the benefit of society … to make society a better place where workers’ rights are respected,” he said.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said Hun Sen’s move was intended to garner workers’ support.
“Our Prime Minister’s leniency for trade unionists is most probably part of his campaign to woo workers’ support."
The timing of the announcement could well overshadow tomorrow’s press conference by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights at the end of her current mission in Cambodia,” he said.
Earlier, when speaking to the workers, Hun Sen also downplayed the European Union’s potential withdrawal of the preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) trade agreement, which allows the Kingdom to export goods to the EU market tariff-free, the prime minister also called on workers to preserve peace and refrain from violent protests.
“If you keep moving around [to protest], they will move their factories to other countries with more security. And don’t worry about psychological warfare. Is it [the EBA] lost yet? No, it’s not. Just keep on working,” he said.