Mr. Vorn Pao
President of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
Mr. Vorn Pao, President of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), was born on April 3 , 1975 ( 39 years old ) , at Tropaing Pul Village, Deurm Mien Commune, Prey Chhor District, Kampong Cham Province. Becoming an orphant at 4 years old, Pao, the youngest out of 5 siblings, lived with his eldest sister, a farmer. Just like other youths in his village, Pao moved to Phnom Penh after graduated from high school in 1997. Finding a job at Rosing garment factory in Phnom Penh, Vorn Pao soon learned that the workers were deprived from their basic rights.
Determined to struggle for a better working condition, Vorn Pao started organizing the workers and set up a union. He was then elected as the first union leader at the factory. It was the outset of his engagement to workers movement in Cambodia. He was dismissed from Rosing Factory in early 2000s due to his activities organizing protests and strikes.
Unemployed, Vorn Pao earned living by driving motor taxi for over a year. Then he started organizing motor taxi and tuk tuk drivers in Phnom Penh leading to the founding of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Workers Association (IDEA) in 2005 where he was elected as the President of the association. IDEA, since then, keeps expanding its organizing scope by engaging street vendors and small restaurant workers in Phnom Penh, Kompong Som, Siam Reap and Poipet.
His commitment and compassion for social justice and democracy in Cambodia drives him to engage further in social and political activities. Under his leadership, IDEA successfully negotiated with Phnom Penh authority in 2009 in securing the livelihood territory of tuk tuk drivers amidst the competition with private taxi companies. Vorn Pao was also active in defending improsoned Beehive radio journalist, Mam Sonando who actively address human rights issues in Cambodia. Vorn Pao always shows his solidarity support for land rights activists and workers struggle in various sectors. In May 2013, Vorn Pao was diagnosed having tumor that could develop into cancer. Local and international activists collected donation for his surgery and medical treatment.
On December 29, 2013, Vorn Pao organized IDEA members to support workers general strike for USD 160 minimum wage. IDEA members also raised their concerns on the increasing price of gasoline and basic goods. Vorn Pao argued that many families of IDEA members worked at garment factories. The involvement of informal economy workers in the general strike strengthened cross sector solidarity in Cambodia.
After new year day off, the general strike continued as the workers refused the government decision on USD 100 minimum wage. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun (CCFC) and Chan Puthisak, land rights activist from Beng Kok Lake community expressed their solidarity support for striking workers in front of Korean owned Yakjin Factory in Por Sen Chey District, Phnom Penh on January 2, 2014. On that day, Military Special Forces Airborne 911 was deployed to crack down the protest.
Vorn Pao was severely beaten and held at the military base near Yakjin Factory. On the next day, Vorn Pao and other 14 detainees were sent for the first trial at Phnom Penh court where they were charged under article 218, “Instigating violence under agravating circumstances”. For almost a week after the first trial, the authority undisclosed the whereabouts of all detainess that the number had increased after the crackdown at Canadia Industrial Zone on January 3, 2014. On January 8, the judge told the human rights lawyers that all 23 activists were imprisoned in Correctional Centre (CC) 3 in the remote area in Kompong Cham province. Vorn Pao health has been deterioting due to severe beating during and after the arrest. Meanwhile, the international solidarity demanding the release of 23 activists keeps flowing. In Phnom Penh, the ban for more than 10 people gathering at public places and deployment of hired thugs with dark helmets do not deter activists to continue the protest demanding the release of 23 human rights defenders and workers activists.
The arrest was done after the factory’s owner had sued him and other 99 workers on charges of destruction of the factory’s property. On 03 January 2013, he was sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court to have questioned by the prosecutor. After the questioning, he was taken to the Correctional Centre 3 (CC3), Kampong Cham Province.