A Phnom Penh municipal judge questioned Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) president Ath Thorn, vice president Kong Athit and secretary-general Ek Sopheakdey for about five hours yesterday regarding a complaint from 30 C.CAWDU members at the E Garment factory alleging the three stole $93,000 in back wages.
Afterwards, one of the union leaders threatened a countersuit against former members believed to be behind the embezzlement accusations.
“The workers sued us, despite the fact that we paid all their money, because they were provoked by [former C.CAWDU members] Um Visal and Roeun Chanthorn,” Athit said as he left the courtroom yesterday afternoon. “I think [Visal and Chanthorn] wish to damage my reputation and C.CAWDU’s reputation.”
Thorn and others in C.CAWDU’s leadership say Visal – a founding member – and Chanthorn voluntarily left after they declined to re-sign their employment contracts. But Visal says they were fired for raising allegations that Thorn, Athit and Sopheakdey pocketed part of a settlement they reached with E Garment to rehire 30 workers with 46 months’ back pay.
Although he provided assistance to the workers who filed the complaint, Visal said, it was the plaintiffs in the case who wanted to sue.
“I never forced or told the workers to file the complaint, they asked for my help,” Visal said yesterday. “I just prepared the documents for them.”
C.CAWDU has not taken legal action against Visal and Chanthorn, but Thorn yesterday said that the union will sue them for defamation if they continue their allegations.
“I do not want to make a larger dispute with them or the workers, but if they continue to damage our individual reputations and the reputation of C.CAWDU without reason, we will sue,” Thorn said.
In turn, Visal said he will file another lawsuit once the current one levied against C.CAWDU leaders is resolved.
“I want the court to take action for the workers,” Visal said. “I will sue them for corruption within the institution.”
The court did not make a decision on whether it would pursue the complaint.