The charges stem from garment and footwear worker protests that began in late 2013 in the capital Phnom Penh, demanding a US$160 monthly minimum wage. Four people were killed and 27 more injured after military police began firing at workers at protests on 3 January 2014.
The six trade unionists, of whom five are leaders of IndustriALL affiliates in Cambodia, were found guilty of instigating violent protests against the government in 2013 and 2014. Each were given a two-and-a-half years suspended sentence.
Under Cambodian law, the guilty verdict effectively means the six can no longer lead their unions as they now have a criminal conviction.
IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, says:
“We call on the government to intervene and see that the convictions against the six trade union leaders are overturned, and that all outstanding cases against union leaders and activists are dropped. The courts are being used to crush independent unions in direct violation of fundamental international labour conventions that Cambodia has ratified.”
The six include trade union leaders from five IndustriALL affiliates: Chea Mony (FTUWKC), Mom Nhim (NIFTUC), Pav Sina (CUMW), Yang Sophorn (CATU) and Ath Thorn (CCAWDU), as well as Rong Chhun from the independent Cambodian teachers’ union.
They were ordered to pay a collective 35,000,000 riel (US$8,600) in compensation to civil parties, even though one of the complainants withdrew his claim during the trial.
The union leaders plan to appeal their convictions. Ath Thorn, President of CCAWDU, said:
“This court decision is unacceptable, and prevents us from exercising our right to represent our unions and our workers. We urge the authorities to drop all cases against trade union leaders.”
The six trade unionists have been on bail since the charges were made until Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the Ministry of Labour to end outstanding cases against union leaders by the end of the year. Although, the union leaders will not go to jail, they face imprisonment if they commit any other felony or misdemeanour within the next five years. It is feared that this threat will be used to stop the union leaders taking part in any peaceful protests and carrying out their trade union duties.
The trial against the six union leaders was held on charges of directly causing violence and damage to property, however, when the judgement was handed down, the charges were changed to instigating those acts. The altered charges were only revealed when the court passed judgment on 11 December, with no notice being given to either the accused or their lawyers during the trial.
Furthermore, no evidence was submitted to prove the six union leaders had instigated any of the acts for which they were sentenced. None of the actual perpetrators of violence or damage were brought to the hearing, nor were they named.
IndustriALL has also joined in a statement condemning the sentencing with global unions BWI, IDWF, PSI and IUF.