COURTS have begun ruling on the legality of strikes by garment workers held last month, though industry and union representatives
offered conflicting accounts of the rulings and the number of employees who had been unable to return to work.
Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, said yesterday that 358 workers protesting the suspension of union representatives had seen their contracts terminated because they ignored court orders requiring them to return to work within 48 hours.
Roughly 140 unionists remained suspended pending court rulings on the legality of last month’s strikes, he said.
But Ek Sopheakdey, secretary general of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, said that more than 800 workers remained suspended.
“The government appealed to the companies and the unions to stop their dispute, but the companies have filed complaints against us and won’t negotiate,” Ek Sopheakdey said. “Their purpose is to destroy independent unions.”
In a speech last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for garment factories to drop their complaints against union representatives and allow suspended workers to return to their jobs.
Ek Sopheakdey said that in five cases, courts had dismissed complaints filed by factories, while rulings had yet to be made in five other cases pending at Kandal provincial court.
Loo said, however, that complaints by eight factories had yet to be ruled on, and that in three cases, the courts had dismissed the factories’ complaints and allowed workers to return to their jobs. In a ruling at Phnom Penh Municipal court, he added, the judge said the factory did not have the right to appeal the decision.
“We’ve seen today that in one of the cases, the judge said that the factory is not allowed to appeal,” Loo said yesterday, and called the decision “really, really weird”.
“Obviously this is completely wrong, because the Municipal Court is the court of first instance,” he said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Chiv Keng said yesterday that his court had dropped the case because there was “agreement from the companies and also the intervention from the prime minister”.
“We did not rule on whether the strike was illegal or not, but because of the compromise from the factories and also the government, we withdrew the injunction,” Chiv Keng said yesterday before hanging up on a reporter.
When reached later in the day and asked if factories could appeal decisions against them, Chiv Keng said: “We have already found ways to end the disagreement in a compromise between both parties, so please, all you journalists, don’t attempt to start a blaze when the fire has almost calmed down.”
Kandal provincial court president In Vanvibol said his court was “still in the process” of assessing complaints filed against union representatives.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRANN CHAMROEUN AND JAMES O’TOOLE