Source: Khmer Times / Monday, 04 April 2016 by Taing Vida and Mom Kunthear
At least one unionist was injured during a clash with 20 Daun Penh district security guards after a group of unionists gathered outside the National Assembly yesterday to protest against the newly drafted Trade Union Law, which was approved despite the protest.
At 10 am, while the National Assembly was holding a meeting to discuss and approve the Trade Union Law yesterday, the 50 protesting unionists were set upon by authorities, who allegedly assaulted and injured unionist Soth Chit, an official with the Cambodia’s Workers Movement Union Association.
Mr. Chit told Khmer Times yesterday that he was hit in the left eye by a Daun Penh district security guard while he was shouting for justice.
“I saw district security guards push a female unionist down on the ground and then I shouted that it was an injustice for her, and asked why the authorities pushed her like this,” Mr. Chit said. “Suddenly [the] security guards, about 20, turned to me and threw their helmets at me and then they ran forward and caught me and hit me multiple times until my left eye was injured,” Mr. Chit said.
He added that despite the violence, he was not yet sure if he would file a complaint against the guards.
“In a democratic country, people have the right to conduct strikes legally,” Mr. Chit said. “I’m not worried or afraid of anything and I will continue to express my ideas toward this union law.”
Pav Sina, President of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said he regretted that the peaceful protest resulted in a clash.
“The authorities have duties in securing safety for the people. In the name of independent organizations, we see that the draft law doesn’t benefit and protect Khmer workers. We would like to ask the National Assembly to accept our request,” Mr. Sina said. “I think we don’t need to use violence [against them].”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimache had an alternate narrative to the unionists’, saying the clash was started by the protesters.
“We [the authorities] have warned them not to protest, but they did not listen and kept marching. They started the fight first. I think the clash was only a few seconds and caused no big harm,” Mr. Dimache said.
Nay Vanda, deputy head of the human rights and legal aid section at Adhoc who was at the scene, said he believed the peaceful campaign turned ugly when security guards pushed protesters.
“I condemn these actions and urge the international community to review its aid to the Cambodian government regarding to the clash. This is clearly a threat to unions,” Mr. Vanda said.
Inside the Assembly, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay urged the parliament to explain the clash, but his request was ignored. Despite the protests outside, the controversial draft law was approved, with 67 lawmakers of 98 voting in its favor. No votes were cast by members of the opposition, who do not support the law in its current format.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr. Chhay said that for the most part, the newly approved union law does not address proposals by unions or comments provided by the bipartisan working group that was assigned to review and amend the law.
“We [the CNRP] will continue to push the government to continue to review some articles within the law. We will ask them to explain and mitigate the implementation of some articles that concern unions, in order to ensure better working conditions for workers and make the exportation of goods convenient for investors,” Mr. Chhay said.
Though none of the ruling party lawmakers gave interviews about the decision, government representatives, including Labor Minister Ith Sam Heng and officials from the Defense Ministry, have defended the law, saying its most recent draft would ensure benefits for both unions and firms.