Prominent Union Leader Accused of ‘Coercing’ NagaWorld Protests

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CATU president Yang Sophorn said workers at a Kampong Chhnang shoe factory were threatened when they attempted to form a union (Hy Chhay/VOD)

A prominent union leader has been warned for allegedly forcing NagaWorld casino workers to continue their protests, with the Labor Ministry letter threatening “punishment” if she continued her “illegal activities.”

NagaWorld workers have been protesting since December 2021 after more than 1,300 workers were laid off by the casino corporation, of which only around 200 are continuing their collective action to push for reinstatement.

In recent weeks prominent union leaders have lent their support to NagaWorld workers, and routinely monitored the protests. Yang Sophorn, the head of garment worker union CATU, has even suggested she will get garment workers to join the protests

The Labor Ministry letter warned Sophorn on Thursday to stop acting beyond the purview of her profession and to stop forcing the workers to continue their strikes. It does not provide any details about how Sophorn was allegedly doing this. 

The letter points to three articles in the controversial Law on Trade Unions. The letter cites Article 81 for working beyond the “geographical, occupational and sectoral scope” and includes an around $1,250 fine. 

Article 89 deals with “coercion to strike” and carries a $1,250 fine, and Article 65 for unfair labor practices by a union.

The Labor Ministry did not detail what kind of “punishment” they would initiate against Sophorn and demanded she not engage with the NagaWorld protests anymore.

Sophorn was unfazed by the letter on Friday, and said she would continue her support for the fired casino workers. 

“I feel normal. I have no problems [with] the ministry’s warning letter. I don’t know based on what case they are accusing me, I have not committed anything wrong,” Sophorn said.

She had the right to support other unions and their advocacy for labor rights, and was unsure how she had violated any laws.

Sophorn again was unable to give a date for when she and other unions planned to join the NagaWorld workers. The union leader has previously stated that she would get garment factory workers to protest in support of the NagaWorld strike, with other unions also pledging their support for the proposed event.

The workers have continued their strike this week, with Mam Sovathin, one of the protesting workers, saying only 90 people were present on Friday because many were sick after they were caught in heavy rains on Thursday.

She said the letter about Sophorn showed that authorities were now accusing everyone of illegal acts. She added that workers took responsibility for their collective actions and were not being coerced by anyone.

“We so regret that as a worker, we are trying to find a solution from the Labor Ministry but they have no ability. Instead, they try to accuse others; it’s so regretful,” Sovathin said. 

Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said the warning would continue if the violations did not end.

“If the violation continues intentionally, the Labor Disputes Department will take the individual to court,” Sour said.

“The Department of Labor Disputes hopes that the letter of warning or reminder will enable stakeholders to reconsider the law. Sometimes as human beings we can forget or not pay attention. That is why the department issued a warning letter or reminder to her. When she receives the letter, she will read the relevant article again and be able to understand and adjust her actions. Ministries or professional officials do not want to see any stakeholders getting punished unknowingly by acting illegally or improperly.”

Updated on August 8 with Heng Sour comment.

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