Unionists Met With Violence As Authorities Try to Block Petition Submission

3 min read
A screenshot from a livestream from Central showing a plainclothes security official pointing at union president Ou Tepphalin on Sunday.

Authorities shoved and struck unionists with walkie-talkies as members of eight unions attempted to submit a petition against union-busting to the Labor Ministry and the Council of Ministers office.

Around 400 participants from eight unions and two civil society groups submitted a petition to the Labor Ministry and Council of Ministers on Sunday highlighting 31 cases of union-busting that occurred during the pandemic, particularly affecting garment unions and a casino workers’ union at NagaWorld casino.

The workers were blocked and faced violence from security personnel as they walked from the Labor Ministry to the Council of Ministers. Seak Panha, a member of the NagaWorld union, said at least two of their members lost consciousness and others were injured when authorities tried to stop the group.

Panha said they first attempted to submit the petition to the Labor Ministry but when no one from the ministry came to receive the letter they decided to walk to the Council of Ministers building. 

Authorities met them at the intersection near the Institute of Technology of Cambodia and began shoving and hitting some members, she said. 

“When we arrived under the [overpass] bridge, they came to stop us and hit us. They even hit us with walkie talkies. Two of our friends lost consciousness,” she said, saying they passed out while being shoved by the authorities.

A livestream from labor rights group Central showed unionists walking away from the melee with red marks on their faces. 

NagaWorld workers have clashed with police and security guards as they have protested the firing of more than 1,300 workers by the casino corporation last year.

Phnom Penh Police spokesperson San Sokseyha denied any violent actions by the police and instead blamed the unionists for the violence. 

“We never violate those illegal protestors who are always planning incitement, yelling and making inappropriate actions to the authorities, while the authorities try to stop them from clashing with each other,” he said. 

The petition does not provide details of the 31 cases but lists federation members affected by union-busting, such as the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union and Independent Trade Union Federation. Unions have told VOD of union-busting tactics used during the pandemic.

Cambodia Tourism Workers’ Union Federation president Touch Kosal added one of his local unions has also seen its union leadership laid off. 

“We have seen that the solutions [so far] aren’t enough. We want to see the Ministry of Labor take action for union leaders to get back to work,” he said. “The Ministry of Labor is our parent and has to compromise for the solution.”

Ou Tepphalin, president of the Cambodia Food and Service Workers Federation, said the unions had collected data on attempts to dissolve different unions and realized unions across industries were facing similar problems. 

She wasn’t confident that the Labor Ministry would respond, but added that it’s important to raise the busting of unions with officials.

“At least we are trying to demand for our freedoms as a group of unions,” she said.

Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour did not respond to a request for comment, and government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the Council of Ministers couldn’t address the issue of union-busting. 

“If the Ministry of Labor couldn’t solve it, the union should file a complaint to the court. Because the court can make a judgment, and the Council of Ministers only does administrative procedures,” he said.

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