Union reps charged for ‘organizing illegal strike’

Source : The Phnom Penh Post

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Workers stand in front of their union office yesterday after writing a letter to the Ministry of Labour demanding to help release their union leaders.

Four union leaders from the Workers Friendship Union Federation (WFUF) who were arrested on Monday were charged and sent to prison yesterday for allegedly organising an illegal strike in Kandal province.

Two of the unionists at Cosmo Textile Co, Ltd, on National Road 4 in Ang Snuol district, were dismissed last Thursday after allegedly failing to stamp their attendance cards five days in a row, and went on strike inside the factory the following day. The factory alleges they did not work on those days, while workers disagree. On Saturday, they forced open the gate of the factory when their entry was blocked.

Two unionists, Chhean Vannak and Moeun Chhit, were summonsed to court on Monday, with Lok Neang also appearing as a witness. All three were arrested when they appeared, and Phan Sary was arrested later that afternoon.

Court spokesman Tin Sochetra said the men had been charged and sent to pretrial detention at Kandal Provincial Prison for instigating workers to strike illegally, inciting damage of factory property, affecting public order by blocking the national road and intentional violence for allegedly making a panicked security guard faint.

Deputy District Police Chief Thiv Chiv Chantha said attempts to arrest more people involved in the strike had followed. “When the authorities went to their house, they escaped, and we’re waiting for the court order. If anyone is involved in this case, they’ll get arrested,” he said, declining to give further details.

Seang Sambath, WFUF president, said the dismissal of the unionists breached the law, as they hadn’t done anything wrong and had worked as normal prior to their dismissal. “Our union leader [Vannak] lost his [stamp] card and already informed the factory administration, but they didn’t make the new card yet,” he said.

But Reim Bora, general manager of the factory for the last two months, said he had warned the union leaders about disrespecting internal rules. “The owner sometimes even wants to shut the factory down as he can’t handle these union leaders,” he said.

“I told them to respect the factory’s policy,” he said, adding that he didn’t see them at work. “How can the factory afford that?”

Worker Khorn Sreyleak, 24, accused the factory of targeting the union leaders and called for their release. “I and other workers also sometimes don’t scan our attendance card, but . . . never got any problems,” she said.

In a letter to the Labour Ministry signed by 62 WFUF members yesterday, workers and unionists demanded the court release the four.

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