A report issued by the Free Trade Union this week contends that union representatives and activists continue to be intimidated and assaulted, and that the situation has deteriorated since the 1990s.
“The conditions for unions look worse and worse,” FTU President Chea Mony said by telephone Friday, although he did not provide any statistics.
His group’s 32-page report outlines stories of striking workers being beaten, labor leaders arrested and rival unions clashing. The shooting deaths in recent years of FTU members and leaders Yeum Ry, Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy are also highlighted.
The report concludes with accusations that the government and justice system have ignored the plight of Cambodia’s union workers.
“Rights violation cases are not impartially investigated, [if they are] investigated at all,” it said.
“A weak justice system…greatly contributed to an inability to prosecute rights violation offenders. There is a lack of effort on the part of the government to hold law enforcers responsible for committing rights violations.”
However, Othsman Hassan, secretary of state for the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, disputed Chea Mony’s allegations by telephone Friday, stating that Cambodian unions have all the appropriate legal protections.
“People in Cambodia have the freedom to have unions, and they are called unions, even when the number of members is small,” he said.
John Richotte, chief technical adviser for the International Labor Organization in Cambodia, said by telephone Friday that healthy labor relations are key to healthy industry in any country.
“While…the right to freedom of association is relatively well protected in Cambodia, we are aware that there are incidents of threats and harassment that take place. Those obviously create an unhealthy atmosphere for good industrial relations,” Richotte said.
“The right to strike is protected in the Cambodian Constitution,” he added, but cautioned that unions must also remember their responsibilities.
“That right does not extend to illegal activities, such as destruction of property,” he said.
Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia spokesman Kaing Monika could not be reached for comment Friday.