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Unions Threaten May Day March Despite Ban

A Cambodian garment worker speaks on a loud speaker as she leads a strike in front of a factory on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sept. 13, 2010.

Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a circular on Thursday banning workers from assembling on International Labor Day, May 1, but a coalition of unions says it will go ahead with plans.

The missive comes after the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union announced plans to gather some 3,000 laborers in Phnom Penh to mark the day.

Ath Thon, president of the coalition, said he plans to gather the workers in a march nevertheless.

“This circular shows a tightening on the rights to assembly and march, but up to now, our working group will follow the plan without changing,” he said. “Our assembly will not affect security and public order. The authorities have the ability to protect security and public order. I think the government should not worry about this.”

The march is scheduled to start in front of the Council for the Development of Cambodia, near Wat Phnom, and pass by the Royal Palace and National Assembly, where workers will bring a petition for better working rights and conditions.

In the circular, Hun Sen calls for the Ministry of Interior, the national police, military police, city and provincial authorities and other government institutions to “take action” in order to maintain public order.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teacher’s Association, which is under the coalition, called the order a threat to constitutional freedoms.

His union will not hold an assembly due to budget concerns, he added.

“This is a worry and a threat by the government to the freedom of assembly and expression of the Cambodian people,” he said.

The proposed March comes as workers face increasing pressure from food and fuel prices, while salaries remain low.

“We see the rising price of goods in the markets, particularly gasoline, making difficulty in people’s lives,” he said. “So we’re requesting the government provide a resolution for the salary of workers, teachers, government staff, police and soldiers, on balance with the market prices for them.”