The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday heard testimony from 10 former teachers, including former National Election Committee member Rong Chhun, as they seek to overturn their sackings by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport in January last year.
The ministry said absenteeism was the reason for dismissing the former teachers from Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Cham, Prey Veng, Siem Reap, Kampot and Kampong Cham provinces.
The proceedings went ahead without Chhun, who is abroad.
Complaints from the 11 were lodged with the court in January in an attempt to reverse the ministry’s decision. The complainants, many of whom were former officials of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), said the Ministry of Education had violated procedure.
Ouk Chhayavy, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), attempted to represent Chhun on Wednesday but the court rejected her representation.
She said the ministry went against its procedure when sacking the 11 education officials. She said that after being fired, the Ministry of Education permitted them to appeal the decision within 60 days. However, their letters of protest went unanswered.
“The 11 teachers included Rong Chhun did not want to go further with the matter. They just wanted the Ministry of Education to give them their jobs back as education officials,” Chhayavy said.
Kong Sivong, a former teacher at Preah Sihanouk Kampong Cham High School, said on Wednesday that he was the former CNRP committee member for Kampong Cham.
He said the Ministry of Education sacked him against procedure in a move that was politically motivated.
“They fired us because we were CNRP officials. After our sackings in the aftermath of the party’s dissolution [in November 2017], we waited to hear from the Ministry of Education as to how we could get back our jobs."
“The provincial education department told us to submit request forms to start our jobs. I submitted mine to my high school principal, the district education office, the provincial education department and the ministry. We could not get our jobs back without approval from the ministry."
“We waited, but we did not receive an approval letter from the ministry. Instead, we got letters of dismissal, accusing us of being absent without permission,” he said.
Sivong said the ministry had agreed he could take temporary leave and return to teaching any time before April this year.
Ly Tith Bonamy, a lawyer representing the Ministry of Education, said Wednesday’s hearing was what is known as “preparation” in a civil case.
At this stage, both sides explain the case to the judge so he understands the point of conflict. The judge will now order a hearing to decide the case, he said.
Tith Bonamy declined to comment further, saying that at this stage the testimony of each side must remain confidential.