Labor and Civil Rights Organizations Deny Labor Ministry Accusations that Yang Sophorn Had no Mandate to Lead the NagaWorld Protests
PHNOM PENH – Twenty-four unions and civil society organizations have collectively rejected a warning letter sent by the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s Department of Labor Disputes stating that Yang Sophorn was not the leader of the NagaWorld workers’ protest.
The Labor Ministry on Aug. 4 issued a warning letter to Sophorn, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, demanding that she stop all “illegal activities” related to the NagaWorld labor dispute, to which civil society organizations (NGOs) and unions responded in a statement issued on Aug. 9, in which they denied that Sophorn acted outside her mandate.
“The Ministry of Labor has charged Yang Sophorn with no evidence or factual evidence that says she led and acted outside the professional boundaries,” the statement read. “She acted in accordance with national and international laws on trade union.”
The NagaWorld labor dispute that has led to this 7-month protest has been due to NagaWorld’s disregard for labor laws, the NGOs and unions wrote. “The NagaWorld’s employer laying off workers as the excuse to eliminate unions also violated the labor and trade union laws, including the core convention of international organizations.”
In the letter whose signatories included the Labor Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of NagaWorld, the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU), the Free Independent Trade Union Federation (FUFI) and the Centre of Alliance for Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), they wrote that, thus far, the Ministry of Labour has not taken any measures to ensure that NagaWorld will respect the national and international laws that Cambodia has ratified.
In addition, to put pressure on union representatives, NagaWorld workers had to agree to the company’s terms, which amounted to accepting illegal compensation and ensuring that independent unions were no longer present, the letter read.
The workers who took part in the protests have suffered injustice, the NGOs and unions wrote. Union leaders and workers’ representatives have used the spirit of solidarity with the workers so they can exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms to ensure the presence of independent unions that speak with the real voice of the workers, and as a mechanism to empower workers to negotiate, have fair distribution of benefits from employers, and improve living and working conditions, they said.
In their joint statement, the NGOs and unions said they have been monitoring the strike since Dec. 18, 2021, witnessing the ongoing arrests and detentions of union leaders and members despite the fact that the workers’ strike is legal according to the labor and trade union laws, and not due to one sole person.
The NGOs and unions asked the Ministry of Labor to stop accusing union representatives who are doing their job of interfering in labor disputes.
They also called on the ministry to stand up for the protection of workers and to urge employers to respect the law and freedom of association under the International Labor Organization’s core convention, and also to have this labor dispute end by enabling union representatives and members back to work at NagaWorld.
In its letter on Aug. 4, the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training stated that Yang Sophorn had previously led and acted unprofessionally under the federal statute regarding the NagaWorld dispute. The letter pointed out articles 65, 81 and 89 of the Law on Trade Unions.
“From the date of releasing this warning letter onward, please immediately stop the above illegal activities,” the letter read. “If you do not comply with this agreement, you will be punished according to the law in force.”
Sophorn immediately rejected the accusation. “I did not lead or interfere with the union’s statutes, she said. “My involvement in the NagaWorld strike is to monitor labor rights.”