Mebun Justice Now!
126 skilled workers restoring the West Mebun temple in Cambodia have been out of work for a year, refusing to return until they can be guaranteed the conditions they negotiated. The workers, who are members of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia (BWTUC), were previously employed by the French archaeological agency EFEO, with a collective agreement and good working conditions. The BWTUC is an affiliate of BWI.
But in February 2018 they learned they would be suspended and then transferred to the Cambodian Government agency APSARA, which has a history of union-busting. They were told there is not enough money to employ all of them according to their collective agreement. They are refusing to return to work until they receive a guarantee that they will be reinstated on their previous agreement.
This 11th Century Khmer temple is part of the Angkor Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 2018 Angkor generated $116 million in ticket sales, and, is one of the key attractions that bring millions of tourists to Siem Reap each year. Many of the West Mebun have been involved in Angkor restoration projects for decades, and, have played a crucial role in preserving Cambodia’s unique cultural heritage.
Cambodia has weak protection for workers’ rights and no minimum wage for most sectors. The collective agreement that the West Mebun workers negotiated in 2013 brought them dignity and respect in their work. On the wages and conditions proposed by APSARA, they will hardly be able to survive. Now unskilled workers have been hired to do their work, and already there are reports of improper payments.
The West Mebun workers share a unique connection with this historical project, and, want to finish the job they started. However, APSARA have continually ignored the union’s requests to meet and negotiate a resolution.
It is time for a new approach from APSARA and EFEO. Instead of ignoring the situation they have created, they must immediately meet with the workers, listen to their demands and restore the wages and conditions that were negotiated by the union in good faith.