Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Intimidation and Legal Threats Against Union Workers and Leaders Must Cease

American Center for International Labor Solidarity (ACILS), Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF) and Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)

Joint Media Statement
Intimidation and Legal Threats Against Union Workers and Leaders Must Cease
We, the undersigned organizations, are deeply disappointed with the government’s actions to intimidate and threaten workers and union members who have joined the four-day-garment strike from September 13-16, 2010.
The government’s response to this entirely legal – and long-declared – strike has included attacks on protesters, legal threats against organizers, and the court-sponsored retaliation against union members. This must stop immediately if the two sides are to reach an agreement during upcoming talks on September 27.
Thousands of workers from the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions (C-CAWDU), the National Independent Federation of Textile Unions of Cambodia (NIFTUC) and 13 other unions took part in a peaceful strike to demand an increase in the current wage to meet minimum living standards.
We deplore the violent incidents which took place during the days-long strike, including:

§  The beating of a 28-year-old woman, who was seriously injured during a crackdown by a mixed group of armed military and civilian police at the Top World Factory and Kbal Koh Garment Factory in Kandal’s Kien Svay district;
§  The physical assault, arrest and detention of Sok Sophea, a 29-year-old male worker and union secretary at the Kbal Koh Factory by Kien Svay district police.

On the fourth day, September 16, the Minister of Social Affairs, Veteran & Youth Rehabilitation, Ith Sam Heng, proposed a meeting between the government and union representatives to be held on September 27. Union leaders accepted this proposal and promptly called for workers to suspend the strike and go back to work.
Although the strike has been suspended, intimidation and threats from the government have not.
While the Minister Ith Sam Heng called for a dialogue, he and Minister of Labour & Vocational Training, Vong Sauth also urged leaders of the strike to be investigated and for authorities to crackdown on the ongoing strike. Starting September 15, the Phnom Penh court, Kandal court and Kampong Speu court started ordering for workers to get back to work within 24 hours.
Furthermore, we obtained copies of some of the court documents calling for workers who led the strike to be suspended from their work pending an investigation:

§  Judge Kloth Pich ordered 22 union workers to be suspended from their work at the Sieng Woo factory in Kampong Speu province;
§  Court President Judge In Van Vibol ordered 16 union workers to be suspended from their work at the Meng Tong Garment Factory Ltd. and Meng Yang Garment Factory & Vet Processing Ltd in Kandal province;
§  Court President Judge In Van Vibol ordered 10 union workers to be suspended from their work at the Winner Knitting Factory in Kandal province
§  Judge Sin Virak ordered 24 union workers to be suspended from their work at the River Rich Textile Ltd. Factory in Kandal province;
§  Judge Sin Virak ordered 20 union workers to be suspended from their work at the Goldfame Enterprise (Intl) Nitters Limited Factory in Kandal province

The participating unions have also reported work suspension of their active members in at least 15 factories.
These actions are undisguised retributions, and are in violation of Article 12 of the Cambodian Labour Law, which prohibits discrimination against union members.
“The right to organize, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike are guaranteed by Cambodia’s Constitution, the Labor Law, and ILO Conventions 87 and 98”, says CLEC Executive Director Yeng Virak. “The government must allow workers and unions to freely exercise these rights.”
“This misuse of the court to punish union activism is a blatant violation of the Labour Law”, says LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. “Discriminatory suspension against union members must cease immediately.”
“The government seems to be engaging in scare tactics to increase their bargaining power on September 27”, says ACILS Country Director David Welsh “Fear seems to be their primary negotiating tactic. But threatening unions will do nothing to resolve the underlying issues. The workers’ demand for higher wages is about meeting minimum living standards. They’re not demanding Lexuses and luxury villas.”
We therefore call for:

§  The courts to respect the rights of workers to exercise union activities, to not unjustly bring charges against union members who took part in and/or organized the legal strike, and to cease groundless investigations on strikes;
§  The authorities from all levels to immediately cease interfering with union activities, including strikes;
§  The government to prepare the ground for an honest and transparent dialogue with union representatives on September 27. If the government fails cease threatening and arresting union leaders, then the September 27 talks will essentially be rigged.  Leaders will be unable to fulfill their duties out of fear of being arrested.

For more information, please contact:
ACILS Country Director, David Welsh, 077 222 020
CCHR Executive Director Ou Virak, 012 404 051
CCIM Director, Pa Nguon Teang, 012 598 066
CHRAC Chief of Secretariat, Suon Sareth, 092 344 357
CLEC Executive Director Yeng Virak, 012 801 235
LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge, 012 803 650

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