Crackdown on Cambodian Workers, a ‘Human Rights Emergency’ – Int’l groups report

February 28, 2014

A group of labor activists and academe from different countries led by the Asia Monitor Resource Centre, a regional labor organization based in Hong Kong, formally released yesterday, February 27, in a press conference in Hong Kong, the findings of its investigation of the Cambodian government crackdown on striking garments workers last Jan 2 and 3 leaving four workers dead, one missing, scores beaten and injured, and 23 others arrested and charged with criminal cases.

The report, A Week that Shook Cambodia, confirmed earlier reports that the Cambodian government employed excessive force resulting in “a human rights emergency” which demonstrated the government’s “complete disregard” for human rights of its citizens and bias towards “the interests of the employers and the garments industry over the protection of workers’ human and labor rights.”

Apart from the incidents on January 2 and 3, the team also delved into the reason behind the general strike and the role of industry players in the violent crackdown. The report described the workers’ strike as “self-motivated” with workers, unorganized and organized across different labor centers, unanimously clamoring for a 100 percent increase in minimum wage from 80 USD to 160 USD.

The report concluded that “poverty wages and dismal working conditions” plus the “absence of real dialogue between workers, government and employers” in the December 2013 wage negotiations left workers “with no choice but to undertake strike actions and protests.” It also underlined the role of the employers group, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), in pressuring the Cambodian government to take aggressive action against the workers to end the strike so production can resume to normal.

The team then urged the Cambodian Government 1) to stop the repression and persecution of workers and activists; 2) to take concrete measures to improve working conditions and; 3) provide space for dialogue and discussion.

Investigation was conducted from January 14 to 19 by 12 individuals coming from the following organizations: Asia Monitor Resource Centre, HK; Asian Labour Study Group, The School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK; Asian Human Rights Commission, HK; Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, PH; Korean Confederation of Trade Union, SK; Korean House for International Solidarity, SK; Oxfam Solidarity Belgium and; Serve People Association, Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) expressed alarm over the recent pronouncement of Hun Sen’s government to indefinitely suspend union rights (right to freedom of association) amid looming strike as workers continue to defy the crackdown. (See article: Gov’t Suspends Freedom of Association for Unions)

CTUHR executive director, Daisy Arago said that such move is a huge blow against Cambodian workers and a retraction of hard-won freedom of Cambodian unions. Arago also criticized the Cambodian government for obstinately ignoring the demands of the workers and the international community.

“Instead of heeding the calls from the Cambodian people and the international community to render justice to the victims of the crackdown and put a stop to the harassment of unionists, the Cambodian Government continuously violates and undercut workers rights and freedoms,” Arago averred.

Arago then reiterated the need for the international community to stand and work in solidarity with the Cambodian people and continue putting pressure on the Cambodian government to end the crackdown, release the 21 remaining detainees, and immediately lift the suspension of the right to freedom of association.###