Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Unions wary of CNRP's 'political' protests

Unions wary of CNRP's 'political' protests

Kem Sokha addresses a mass of garment workers at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park during a political rally in 2013.
Kem Sokha addresses a mass of garment workers at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park during a political rally in 2013. Scott Howes

Unions wary of CNRP's 'political' protests

As the opposition prepares to stage mass demonstrations across the country, major independent unions – a key component of protests that followed the contested 2013 election – yesterday expressed reluctance to support a call to mobilise for protests they called “political” and not in their interests.

On Monday, the CNRP announced plans to hold mass, non-violent protests in response to the “unjust” use of the court system against its senior leadership and activists, with the party saying it hoped to get “as many as possible” on the streets.

But union leaders appear determined to sit this one out.

“It is a political protest, so we will not take part,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union. “Workers may take part as per their rights, but the union will not take part.”

Thorn acknowledged that in 2013, the CNRP’s post-election protests had merged with worker demonstrations for better wages, but said that would not happen this time around.

In 2013, following the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly and subsequent peaceful gatherings in Phnom Penh, party president Sam Rainsy had used his longstanding connections to the labour movement to encourage workers to join their cause to the CNRP.

However, two weeks after those overtures, violent clashes between security forces and unions at Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard led to the shooting deaths of five workers when authorities opened fire on protesters. A day later, they violently dispersed CNRP supporters at Freedom Park.

“In the previous protest, it was the union who organised it, but politicians gained from those protests,” said Collective Union of Movement of Workers president Pav Sina. “Even if the CNRP includes wage talks in their protest, I think it is just to gain political mileage.”

Unions are currently engaged in discussions with the government and employer representatives to set next year’s minimum wage, with Far Sally, head of the National Coalition of Trade Unions, saying that was where he intends the focus of the workers he represents to remain.

However, Chea Mony, former president of the Free Trade Union, said he would “one hundred per cent take part in the CNRP protest”.

He was backed up by Mam Seng Hak, deputy president of the FTU. “Personally, I encourage [workers] to take part so as to ensure respect of the law. The court, as we see, isn’t providing justice,” Seng Hak said.

Rainsy yesterday said that unions and workers were free to decide for themselves if they wanted to “join hands with democratic forces also fighting for social justice”, a sentiment echoed by CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann.

“Workers are Cambodians and they can also participate to find a solution,” Sovann said. “This is a problem for the whole country.”

MOST VIEWED

  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • Kampot tourism quay ‘90% done’

    Construction on Kampot International Tourism Port – a 4ha quay in Teuk Chhou district about 6km west of Kampot town – has fallen off track, reaching 90 per cent completion, according to a senior Ministry of Tourism official last week. The project is now planned to be finished

  • Demining rat ‘hero’ Magawa dead at 8

    A landmine-hunting rat that was awarded a gold medal for heroism for clearing ordnance from the Cambodian countryside has died, his charity said on January 11. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000sqm of land – the equivalent of 42