Despite anticipating violence between unionists and authorities, labour union heads yesterday said they will go ahead with a public forum at Freedom Park on Saturday morning.
“I think we cannot avoid having a clash on Saturday, because [authorities] will not allow us to have our forum,” Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said. “But what we are going to do is not wrong.”
Phnom Penh City Hall on Tuesday denied a request by 18 union federations to hold a public forum at Freedom Park on Saturday, an event that would coincide with International Women’s Day.
The union groups are continuing to demand the minimum garment wage be increased to $160 per month and 21 jailed activists and workers be freed from prison.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche on Tuesday declared Freedom Park off-limits, saying that the 30,000 people union federations expect could pose a threat to security.
“We’re concerned that police or military will block the road and make violence for our members,” Sun Lyhov, of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said.
Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito and Dimanche could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The forum is the second step leading to a stay-at-home garment industry strike scheduled to begin next Wednesday and last until at least March 19.
Last week, some garment worker union members participated in a boycott of overtime work.
Government officials, including Minister of Labour Ith Sam Heng and Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon, have received invitations to take part in the forum, however, none have responded, Lyhov said.
Roadblocks and crackdowns on the 8am forum would not be the first of their kind.
At least four people were killed and dozens injured when government security forces opened fire during crackdowns on striking garment workers on January 2 and 3.
Union leaders yesterday said that in addition to workers in the Phnom Penh area, they will arrange transportation to bring in union members from other provinces.
C.CAWDU will bring about 3,000 members from provinces including Kandal, Kampong Speu, Takeo and Kampong Cham, Lyhov said.
The Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) will provide transportation for about 100 workers in Kampong Cham and Svay Rieng, CATU president Yang Sophorn said yesterday.
Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, said the forum could provide a great opportunity for open dialogue. But the backlash from any crackdowns could harm Cambodia’s reputation immensely.
“I would assume there would be a lot of concern internationally … if this peaceful assembly was met with the sort of violence we saw at the beginning of January,” Welsh said.
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