Clashes between police and protestors in Freedom Park, Phnom Penh, Jan 2014. Photo: Luc Forsyth
Cambodia: unions and companies demand justice
Thirty-one multinational companies from Adidas to Walt Disney have joined with global unions in a letter to the Cambodian government, to express their concern over trade union law, minimum wages and 21 arrested trade unionists. The step comes a week after trade unionists were prevented from demonstrating in Phnom Penh’s ironically named Freedom Park.
The Cambodian manufacturers’ organisation, GMAC, is becoming more and more hostile to trade unions. Having urged the government to repress the wage-demand demonstrations at the turn of the year that left at least 5 dead, GMAC has been supporting legal cases against unions and individual workers which would lead to bankruptcy, and is now urging the government to denounce the core ILO conventions covering freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike (C87 and C98).
The Freedom Park demonstration, called on International Women’s Day by 18 trade unions with members in the garment sector, was designed to press the Government over the demand for a $160 a month minimum wage, and over the 21 trade unionists arrested and still held after the turn of the year demonstrations. As early as 7am police manned barricades blocking off the park and side streets leading there. By 8am, black-helmeted security guards wielding batons stormed through a crowd of about 50 gathered near the blockade, blowing whistles, shouting and herding the group toward the Naga Bridge.
The leader of the main opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy, attended the rally of union activists. Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), said after the rally was prevented:
“This is an illegal action of the government authorities. The government banned the forum… but they have not provided any solution. I’m disappointed that the government didn’t allow it and that the authorities blocked Freedom Park. Freedom Park [should allow] for freedom of the workers.”
The letter to the Government follows an earlier initiative in January, and subsequent meetings with the Government. It was signed by many of the companies sourcing textile products from Cambodia, including household names Adidas, Bonmarche, C&A, Debenhams, Gap, H&M, Marks and Spencer, Next, Nike, Primark, Tesco and Walt Disney, as well as global union federations IndustriALL (covering manufacturing) and UNI Global (retail workers), and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:
“Freedom of association is under serious attack in Cambodia right now. The government has frozen all new union registrations and has banned public demonstrations supporting workers’ rights. Workers face retaliation in their workplaces for exercising this fundamental right. We all want to see a sustainable garment industry, and the government and employers need to respect freedom of association. Unions in Cambodia and around the world will campaign to ensure that Cambodian workers can exercise this basic right.”