Photographed in 2012, Garment worker Rorm Ravy, 18, from Kampong Thom lives in a rented room with other 4 garment workers from the same factory. © ILO/ Livingston Armytage
Cambodia: trade unionists set free, brands back wage rises
Despite being found guilty, 23 trade unionists in Cambodia arrested after textile workers demonstrated at the beginning of the year were finally set free by the courts on Friday after their sentences were suspended. Their release, tarnished only slightly by the guilty verdict, came less than a fortnight after the death of one of the protesters from the wounds sustained in January when the police and security services cracked down on the demonstrations.
Moun Sokmean, 29, was severely beaten by police during the protest on Veng Sreng Boulevard at which police opened fire, killing at least four immediately. Family members say his death was the result of a brutal assault by authorities, which caused head trauma that blinded his left eye and rendered him unable to work or care for his 3-year-old son. The police are still ‘investigating’ the vicious response to the protests: it seems that the trial of protesting unionists took priority!
Earlier in May, global unions persuaded key international brands sourcing textiles from Cambodia to back an increase in the minimum wage. Unions are calling for an increase in the minimum wage from US$100 to $US160 per month. Brands – including H&M, GAP, Puma, Levi’s and Inditex – joined with unions in conveying to the government…
“that due to reaction of consumers and the disruption to production and shipping caused by continued unrest, Cambodia was at risk of losing its status as a strategic sourcing market, with an impact on future investment and growth.”
Trade unionists globally have stressed the poor human rights record of the Cambodian government. In Berlin at the ITUC Congress, Cambodia received a 5 – the worst ranking – in the ITUC Global Rights Index. Kong Athit, the general secretary of the Cambodian Labour Confederation said:
“Our country is rubbish when it comes to human rights.”
It’s a view echoed by human rights experts. Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said:
“The release of people jailed for political reasons is welcome, but their convictions should be quashed along with their criminal records. These politically motivated convictions should not be allowed to stand and provide a false legal pretext for restricting their basic rights.”
Unions are also pressing for improvements in the labour law, and have expressed concerns about the restrictiveness of the latest draft.