[Warning – violent content] Video of attacks on protesting bus drivers in Phnom Penh (courtesy of Licadho-Cambodia) 

The Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) – an ITF-affiliated union of informal workers in Cambodia – has condemned a brutal attack on a group of protesting bus drivers and their supporters which took place on February 6th in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. The protesting bus drivers had been taking part in a picket outside the Capitol Bus Company in protest against the loss of 45 jobs at the company, which the drivers say happened as a result of their attempt to form a union.

The bus drivers and their supporters were attacked with hammers and metal bars by members of the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association (CCDA) – an organisation accused of working on behalf of the company – while police did little to stop the violence. A bus driver and a tuk-tuk driver – Nan Vanna and Ruos Siphay – were arrested at the protest and later sent to prison on trumped-up charges. Four union leaders have also subsequently been charged as a result of the protest, whilst no member of the CCDA involved in the violent attacks has been arrested.

Members of IDEA and other supporters have been demonstrating outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court to call for the release of the two detained men. Supporters of the drivers are also calling for a boycott of Capitol Bus Company.

Cambodia’s workers are unfortunately all too familiar with state-complicit violence against workers attempting to stand up for their rights. When workers in the country’s huge garment sector organised a general strike to demand an increase in the minimum wage in December 2013/January 2014, the government responded with a violent crackdown, during which at least five people were killed. Many union leaders were beaten, arrested and detained, including the President of IDEA, Vorn Pao.

Moeun Tola – executive director of CENTRAL, an alliance of  labour & human rights organisations – said that the violent attack and consequent arrests of the victims “shows that workers cannot engage in public demonstrations [in Cambodia] without risk of arbitrary arrest – or even threats to their lives. It is further stark evidence of the authorities enabling and using utterly disproportionate violence with total impunity, in order to intimidate and disperse demonstrating workers”.

The International Union of Transportworkers and the ITUC have issued a joint statement condemning the arrests and violence.

Note: IDEA are participants in the ITF Informal Workers Project and are currently in a mentoring relationship with the National Confederation of Transportworkers’ Unions (NCTU) in the Philippines.