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Labor Leader Cautions Against Hun Sen Intervention

Chea Mony, president of Cambodia's Free Trade Union of Workers.
Chea Mony, president of Cambodia's Free Trade Union of Workers.

The intervention this week by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a series of labor disputes could please workers but upset investors, a trade union representative said Thursday.

In public statements on Wednesday, Hun Sen urged the courts to drop a number of cases brought by factories against labor leaders, following a general strike in mid-September. The factories had been insistent on charging some union representatives for the strike, which managers called illegal.

“If I'm a worker, I'm happy when an employer wants to file a complaint but where the prime minister asks that it be stopped,” said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

“But if the courts say they are independent, they can't accept the prime minister's request,” he said. “That's the problem.”

The Free Trade Union was not among those who went on a four-day strike last month, but it is one of the most powerful unions in the garment sector.

Since the strikes, workers and managers have sought to simplify the negotiation process, but it remains unclear how far factories are willing to go to increase the incomes of workers, especially in a tightened global marketplace.

Chea Mony, whose brother and former president of the union was murdered in 2004, said the best way to deal with the current dispute is to find a compromise, before both sides lose.

“The workers need factories and factories need workers, so one side should not upset the other,” he said.

He also cautioned against the court's simply taking the lead of a single individual, which erodes the confidence of investors in Cambodia's dedication to the rule of law.

Worried investors may well decide instead to take their businesses to other countries, such as Bangladesh, Kenya or Nepal, he said.