The Labor Ministry has warned a union federation president for allegedly violating the Labor Law, accusing him of inciting workers from trash collection firm Cintri to go on strike to pressure their employer into guaranteeing their benefits and final pay should they lose their jobs.
In a letter sent October 8 to Touch Kosal, president of the Cambodia Tourism Workers’ Union Federation (CTWUF), the ministry alleged he had led the strike by about 2,000 Cintri workers, which began October 2, and ordered him to stop his activities.
“He has acted contrary to federal statutes, led others to strike illegally, and incited workers/employees to commit serious mistakes,” the letter reads.
It also said that leading and inciting the capital’s garbage collection workers to strike to put pressure on their employers was in opposition to the law.
“In the event that there is no change [in his behavior] or if [he] violates this warning letter, your professional organization may be sued and dissolved or other measures will be taken as required by law,” the letter said.
The Cintri workers began their strike after hearing news that City Hall is planning to finalize contracts on October 16 with three new garbage companies, which could cause them to lose their jobs at Cintri. As a result, they have demanded that their employer promise to provide them with seniority indemnity pay, compensation pay, final salary, remaining annual leave pay, and notice pay should their contracts be terminated.
According to the minutes of an October 7 meeting, Phnom Penh municipal officials and company representatives said the workers’ demands could not be guaranteed because Cintri was still operating, and encouraged all employees to return to work, to no avail.
Kosal said the ministry’s accusations were baseless because he did not incite the Cintri employees to strike.
“I think that their accusations against [me] are clearly without evidence and they are just blaming me,” he said. “It is very unjust and I cannot accept it.”
Kosal said that when the garbage workers started their strike on the evening of October 2, he was in Siem Reap province and that he did not attend the first joint meeting between workers, company and government representatives on October 3.
He noted that workers and union leaders at Cintri had later called him to ask for his help and that he had attended the second joint meeting between the three parties on October 5.
Kosal added that this was the third time this year that he has been warned for his union activities, with the first two instances coming from the Siem Reap provincial labor department and court over his efforts to help workers of Le Meridien Angkor Hotel, who have been on strike since August.
He said he had asked Labor Ministry officials to review the details of the case before issuing warning letters that are unjustified and damaging to the recipients.
“Accusing me is not correct because when I went to negotiate, I just coordinated [between] the workers, the company and relevant authorities. I am not the leader of the strike,” Kosal said.
Kao Savat, president of Cintri’s chapter of the CTWUF, confirmed that he had asked Kosal to help with negotiations due to his knowledge of the law, but that he had not attended the first negotiations on October 3.
“He is not one of the people behind this case,” Savat said. “I think that he did not do anything wrong.”
Savat added that he is also staying away from the striking workers because of the accusations leveled against Kosal.
“I request the Labor Ministry review [this case] because unions and federations are not behind this case. The workers are striking on their own,” he said.
Cintri employee Um Vanny, 32, said he did not know Kosal or the other union representatives, and that workers had taken up strike action of their own accord.
“This is a threat to the union and federation as well as us,” he said. “It does not have to do with the union or federation because we want the company to provide the benefits in our five demands.”
Vanny said that now the workers would continue to strike, unless the company or authorities provided them with an acceptable resolution.
According to minutes from the October 7 meeting between Cintri workers and management, and officials from City Hall and the labor and environment ministries, the company said it would follow the Labor Law to respond to workers’ demands.
Ou Ratana, deputy secretary-general of the Committee for the Resolution of Strikes and Demonstrations at the Labor Ministry, declined to comment and referred questions to Labor Conflict Department Director Chrun Theravong, who also declined to comment.
Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said that it was not necessary to elaborate on the letter.
“I do not need to describe the letter as it was sent to the offender,” he said. “The letter contains references and provides sufficient information to those who work in this field.”
Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng said that while Cintri’s workers remain on strike, he had ordered district authorities to collect residents’ garbage.
He said he could not comment on the letter to Kosal as he had not seen it.
“If the Labor Ministry said there was an issue, then no mistake has been made,” Sreng said.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey could not be reached for comment.
Khun Tharo, program manager at labor rights group Central, said the Labor Ministry’s accusations against Kosal were unfounded, as it was his duty as the president of the federation to coordinate meetings between workers and other relevant parties.
“Normally, the decision [to strike] is based on workers or local union representatives,” Tharo explained.
He said that the ministry’s allegations were without evidence, and that it was the federation president’s job to respond when called upon by striking workers.
“I think that this is an injustice for a national professional organization that has just played its role in coordinating and solving a conflict,” he said. “He should be respected and valued for his efforts in finding a resolution. When they [send letters] like this, it is a threat to the unions.”